Tuesday, January 19, 2016

scene description--too much or too little?


Robert L. Bacon is an editor, publishing guru, and author of the e-book HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL READ Link for $2.99 e-Book on Amazon . Here he tells how to strike a happy medium when describing a scene:


Scene Description--Too Much or Not Enough

Some time ago I discussed scene description in general terms related to how much is too much, but I didn't provide specific examples.  Now, however, I'm going to illustrate balance by writing what I hope is a decent scene with adequate description, then write it in a way that's barren, and finally design it with patently bloated rhetoric.  My goal is to demonstrate that balance can be achieved, and after the three examples I'll offer my idea of the best way to create the desired characterization.

Adequate Scene Description

The brutal wind blew the trees in one direction and then another, twisting some of the branches off small firs and junipers so cleanly that it appeared to be the work of a road crew.  Old Charlie Devereaux sat on his ancient tractor, which was about as old as he was and just as cranky, and wished the danged storm would go on and take down the entire barrier that copse of trees had been planted to provide.  Heck, if they'd be gone, during the winter he could forget about goin' outside the century-old house he and Ma had lived in for o'er half that time.  He'd put away enough wood--and more than enough corn liquor--to make it through two winters, no matter how bad.  And his 85-year-old body was ready for a break.  Too bad it was not to be.

Inadequate Scene Description

The wind twisted the branches off the small trees as if a machine had done it.  An irascible old farmer, Charlie Devereaux, sat on his tractor and wished the storm would take down all the trees so he could stay indoors throughout the winter.  He needed a break and had enough firewood and "homemade" to tide him over.  If only.

Too Much Scene Description

The incredibly brutal Nebraska winter wind threw the more diminutive trees back and forth and in every direction in between, also bending and then twisting and turning the larger branches off some of the firs and junipers that had grown old--with such clean precision that a highway crew straight from Lincoln could not have done the job any better.  An old local farmer, Charlie Devereaux, sitting on the worn steel seat of his ancient red and gray Ford tractor--circa 1935 and almost as old as he was and about as hard to get along with--wouldn't have minded it one iota if this gale wind that had been blowin' for a full day now would knock down each and every single one of that row of trees he and his daddy had planted the first time when he was just a boy.  Trees put in the ground to create a natural barrier to keep the heavy snow off the long, potholed path leading down to the whitewashed barn and on out to the rusty mailbox on the one-lane road that eventually wound its way to the county seat, a full 20 miles away.  He and May, she from nearby Hastings and of Millwood stock on her daddy's side, had lived in that ancient green frame farmhouse with its gabled roof and lightning rods for 52 years come the spring, and he could use a break from the hard winters that kept getting worse and worse it seemed.  Miguel and Tom, his farmhands, one as wide as the other one was tall, had chopped and hauled in enough oak and maple during this past summer--cutting down almost the entire row next to the bank at Evers Creek when there was nothing else to do because the crops had pretty much burned up with all the heat and lack of rain--to keep the normally drafty house heated for the entire winter.  And old Char, as the other farmers in the area reverently referred to him, had been making 'shine since he was a lad, so he always had enough of it in brown gallon jugs holed away in the root cellar on the lee side of the house to keep him through at least one winter; this time, however, he could make it through two if he put his mind to it.  However, the break that Old Char hoped for, at least as he knew or expected it, was not going to come to pass, and no one would be more surprised than him when he learned the next morning what was in store for him during this winter of "rest" he desired.  The venerable farmer would wish many times over that he could get away from that old farmhouse--which was something he never thought he'd say.    

Perhaps a Nice Balance

The Nebraska winter wind threw the trees in every direction, twisting the branches off the firs and junipers with the precision of a road crew.  Old Charlie Devereaux, sitting atop a tractor almost as ancient as he was, and just about as cranky, would not have minded if that wind took down all those trees that he'd planted at his father's direction when he was just a boy.  The trees provided a natural barrier to keep the driveway to and from the house from drifting closed, but Charlie kinda hoped to get shut in for a change.  He and Ma both needed a break, and a good snowstorm might give them a chance to relax for a change.  Heck, his farmhands had put up enough wood this past summer to last two winters, and he always had enough 'shine in the root cellar.  But that break was not to be, as he'd find out the next morning, storm or no storm. 

Write Too Much and Then Cut It Back

When writing a scene such as I've just toyed with, the question a writer must ask is, "How much information do I really want to provide for the reader?"  In this vignette, what's important:  the characters? sure; the location? of course; the general physical description to set the scene? yes; what's happening, definitely; the conflict? the most important facet of all.  Once the critical elements are outlined as I've just done, it makes the process much easier, especially should something be lacking.

I normally suggest erring on the side of volume when initially writing out a scene.  This works primarily with exposition, as dialogue generally benefits from the opposite dynamic (meaning, write out the dialogue and then decide about pauses, interior exposition, etc.).  But this paper is about exposition, and I'm advising more rather than less to start with, as it's simpler to cut back--and faster--than trying to flesh out everything later.

Link for $2.99 e-Book on Amazon



Elma Schemenauer CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS: 1940s-era novel about love, Mennonites, faith, & family. Set in Vancouver & rural Saskatchewan. Order from Chapters online http://tinyurl.com/ny8smwk or Borealis Press http://tinyurl.com/lfdo9pf  . More info at http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs  . Book trailer at https://youtu.be/sBRuhh1xX7Y .


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