Telling a riveting story, populating it with characters who speak and act, that part isn’t so hard for me. Playing with words to paint just the right image or capture exactly the perfect nuance is the fun and joyous part of writing.
It’s creating a place where my imaginary friends live and breath, the setting, that I run into trouble.
I’ve long used photos to inspire me, but somehow that just hasn’t been enough. So I’ve turned to One Stop for Writers for help in creating a setting. I used their prompts to create a scene sketch.
To set the scene: my heroine, Iskra, is fleeing for her life, chased by bandits. She’s running though a forest.
- She sees downed trees, shadows, and beams of sunlight falling through the leaves
- She hears the rustle of leaves underfoot, the crack of branches, her own panting, the shouts of the bandits in pursuit
- She smells musty leaves, damp and decay
- She tastes the sweat in her mouth
- She feels both hot from running, cold from fear and as she goes into shadows. She also feels uncertainty in the uneven terrain (sometimes squishy, sometimes hard, obstacles in the form of downed trees or depressions in the ground)
- The weather is partly sunny, so the light shifts as the sun goes behind clouds, or she passes through shadows
- The mood to reinforce is one of unpredictability, potential dangers in front of her that could be worse than what’s behind her
- Symbolism: I could focus on the trees, to suggest for growth and strength, as she overcomes her fear. Claw marks on tree bark showing more potential danger lies ahead.
She runs up to a stand of pines, and finds a cliff face about 20 feet high. She knows she has to climb, to be strong, to persevere. Like the trees growing out of the rocks. This idea of facing down fear is one of the themes of the novel, so it’s great I can allude to it so early in the novel.
This exercise took me about ten minutes, but is well worth it. I can see more clearly the setting, and feel it, smell it and taste it. I know what I want my character to feel. Once I know that, I can make the reader feel it as well.
Even better, I can throw in some symbols of danger (claw marks on tree) or what my character will need to do to face down her fears (persevere, like the trees.)
These details will add rich layers to my flight scene, without slowing down the action. Not bad for just a few minutes’ thought.