Scenery vs. Scene

One of the greatest (and sometimes most daunting) things about writing fiction is that as long as your reader keeps turning the page….you are GOD… long as the reader keeps reading. As the author you control not just everyone’s actions (or inaction), but also the lights, the sound, the smells (good and bad)….everything. The hard part in writing fiction is remembering that. For example….your main character is in the bathroom and one of the supporting characters who is really not feeling well walking into the bathroom. The hero might say:

“You look like shit.” The new face might even respond:

“I think I have pneumonia.” And you the author would know that both are true statements. The reader doesn’t know that. He or she only knows what you tell them. Additionally, beforehand the author might have penned:

Sarah had coughed most of the night and had a fever when she woke up that morning.

On the one hand, unless you want that sickness itself to be the entire point of the story, you probably don’t want to go off onto a long tired of every detail of the medical condition– your reader will lose interest rather quickly because the action, the flow, of the story has stopped. If the sickness itself is not pertinent to the storyline, then that fact may need to be slighted or even cut altogether. On the other hand, to create the illusion and continue the fantasy of the story, you will want to SHOW the reader that the supporting character is having a hard time. In this example, it’s an integral part of the scene and quite necessary to the story (explaining why the hero wasn’t at the scene of the murder in the next chapter, for example)…..

Entering the bathroom, Sarah wheezed as she exhaled. Looking over at her, John noted the bags under her eyes from lack of sleep and continued brushing his teeth in front of the mirror. He knew that saying anything at that moment would only make his morning worse and that she was an uncooperative patient. Leaning over the sink she used the vanity for support and labored a coughing fit. Daintily, she spit phlegm into the sink and rinsed it down. John continued his brushing motions and Sarah breathed heavier than normal. Having finished, John lovingly placed his hand on her forehead and felt on fire. Annoyed, John couldn’t take it anymore. He surmised that his morning was probably going to be worse anyway:

“So, which clinic are we going to?”

To keep the reader turning the page, the movie that you are presenting to them (in their head as they read) must not stop, and certainly for any length of time. The trick is to work the scene into the action of the story by having the characters react to the world that you have built around each of them. You don’t want to overdo it– include only the descriptions insofar as they are pertinent to the story. In the above example, did it matter whether the sink had one basin or two? Not really…hence why I didn’t include it in the “story”. That said, it gives your reader the illusion that your story is real when you work the scenery (disease) into the story without actually giving too much information.

Try it 🙂

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