It’s All In The Details | How I Use Lists To Enhance A Scene

Terry Pratchett once said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

The first draft is inevitably meant to be a mess. It’s a time of acquainting yourself with your project. Getting to know your characters and walk alongside them through their world and on their journey.

The second draft, however, is where I really start getting down to business. It’s where I print out what I’ve written in its entirety, break out my editing pens, and go through it page by page. It usually doesn’t take long to do because my first drafts are more skeletal than I would prefer. In the beginning stages of any project with the intent of getting the gist of it. Its structure acts more like a film script, in that my focus is mostly on the dialogue rather than the narrative it exists in. As a result, here’s a lot of editing to be done come the next stage. The area that suffers most because of this method is undoubtedly my scene descriptions.
 
I’m in the process of enhancing a scene’s imagery and thought I would take the opportunity to share a behind-the-screen glimpse at how I go about it.
 

The scene is set in town, like many others. This provides something of a database, in that I have already introduced it into the story~though not well enough.

The first thing I do in this is list all of the important landmarks of the setting. This includes specific places characters have been and those that have only been mentioned.

I’m using Scrivener, but other programs like Microsoft Word or Open Office work just as well for this purpose. 

ScrnshotI actually tend to use just a pen and paper for this, but I figured it would be best if I spared you the trouble of trying to decipher my handwriting (trust me when I say it isn’t pretty or easy to read).

Once I’ve done this, I break these down further with location-specific notes such as these for the church.

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The list doesn’t need to take up the whole page. It’s just a way to keep track of details that are already included in your manuscript so they can be referenced later.

Next are what I call the “could-be” details. These are things that could be added into what I already have. 

The “could-be” details are often possible things for characters to observe and interact with as they’re conversing (or sometimes avoid interacting with, depending). They might also be sensory details like the scent of freshly baked bread as they pass the bakery or the sound of a horse’s hooves on the pavement as it pulls a coach down the lane.

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The list may be short now, but it’s something I’ll keep adding to as I go. Some details may fit better in earlier scenes or later ones than that I’m currently editing, but the list then acts as a reserve for future reference. I’ll also type the “could-be” list in a different font than the one the manuscript is in because they have not yet been incorporated into the project. It’s just my way of organizing my ideas.

This method is also one I apply to other things such as characters’ appearances. Listing things like hair and eye color, facial shape, build, and other significant features helps me to picture them better.

I’ll also have Pinterest open to my storyboard while I work.

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Having these images at my fingertips makes it easier to visualize the scene when I’m not sure how to describe it. I also have boards made for things like characters, clothing, and food.

It usually takes a few rounds of edits before I’m at a point where I would feel comfortable sending what I’ve written off to my critique partner or beta readers, but creating lists like this makes it a little easier. 

While we all strive for vivid imagery, the details included in any piece of writing ought to serve a purpose. Don’t just throw things in to make a work longer. Make sure what you are adding benefits the work overall and pulls your reader into your vision.

Do you have any methods that help you write descriptions? Let me know in the comments below!

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