This is the sixth post in the Confessions of a New Author series. This series chronicles my adventures of becoming a self-published author, from the very moment I woke up and decided to be an author to when I finally published my debut novel and beyond.
An earlier post in this series focused on creating your characters from the ground up (if you missed that blog, you can find it here). But what’s the point in creating compelling characters if you don’t know exactly what scene they’re going to end up in?
My debut novel, Finding Paradise, takes place on the gorgeous island of Oahu, Hawaii. I chose this location for my novel because I knew it well. I’ve been to Oahu twice, the most recent having been about four months prior to writing Finding Paradise. Every beach and restaurant were fresh in mind. I could still hear the roaring ocean and smell the sea salt in the air. It was easy for me to drop my characters into paradise and let the story run its course.
However, that won’t be the case when I finally pick up where I left off in “Novel A”. (If you’ve missed the last few posts in this series, I had initially begun writing “Novel A” as my debut novel, but decided to put that story on hold to write Finding Paradise instead because it was nagging at me to be written first). “Novel A”, as of the date of this post, will take place in Seattle, Washington, though that may change as I begin to write it again during 2016 NaNoWriNo. I’ve never been to Seattle, so as many writers do, I will be relying on online research to know the location of my story (see the previous post here on the importance of research in novel writing).
But scene development is much more than just where your story takes place overall. Books are made up of multiple scenes and it is up to the writer to create those scenes so vividly that the reader can imagine themselves there with little to no effort.
There are several important elements to keep in mind while developing your scenes. You may have heard of “show, don’t tell.” This is a famous writing tactic that many authors swear by, and if you’re a new writer, that tactic may not make any sense at all. Allow me to break it down a little bit more.
How would you describe a scene where your character is outside at night?
Jane was outside of her house. It was dark because it was nighttime. The moon was in the sky, but the stars weren’t out yet.
Those three sentences were telling the reader about the night scene. Now, try this one:
Jane stroked her hands along her arms, trying to will away the goosebumps on her skin. She couldn’t see much except the moon high in the dark sky. The stars were hidden, much like Jane’s sanity for wanting to wait outside at this time of the night without even a flashlight to keep away the shadows.
Again, three sentences. But these three sentences were showing the reader that it was a night scene. I was taking the reader into the scene, letting them explore the surroundings, much like my character was. That is what’s meant by “show, don’t tell.” Show your readers around the scenes, don’t tell them what they ought to be seeing. It’s an odd concept to get used to as a new writer, but with practice, you’ll begin to understand it and use it more frequently in your writing without even noticing.
However, there can be such a thing as too much showing. I struggled with this myself with Finding Paradise. Because my novel took place in Hawaii and the main characters, Mila and Gage, were visiting different tourist spots around the island, I had the delicate task of balancing scene description with too much scene description. I was walking the fine line of turning my story into a tour brochure for Oahu instead of an NA/romance novel, and a few times, I did accidently focus more on the descriptions rather than the scene itself. One of my beta readers actually pointed this out to me, so when I went back for revisions, I made sure to trim some of the “show, don’t tell” elements from my scenes.
It is a very careful balancing act to know how to develop your scenes and how much is too much. There’s no real formula to it. Just like writing, it’s all trial and error. That’s why novel writing takes time. Lots of time, so be prepared, because your journey has only just begun.
Thank you for reading, and keep writing your heart out.