Ever wonder what makes some books instantly popular while others drag along behind and never quite make the grade? When you read a book what is there about it that makes you keep reading?
I'd be willing to bet that it's that you are relating to the characters. You like them and therefore care what happens to them. It is a given that we must first create unforgettable characters. However, if you put those characters in boring situations where nothing excites the reader, the best characters in the world won't save a book.
What you want to do is take your reader by the hand and lead her into your story and keep her there. So you must become the character and put yourself in the scene. Pay attention to your surroundings. Not only what you see, but what you smell, feel, hear and taste. What goes on around you in a particular location. Make it real, keep it real.
Let's create a scene where a man and a woman go out to a restaurant to eat. On the busy city street you hear horns honk, someone shouts. Inside the restaurant what are you hit with first? I'd bet it's the delicious aroma of cooking food. But wait, over there a waiter drops something, at a table a child cries out, a couple at another table laugh. No long descriptions of walls, tables, waiters, etc. are necessary unless something is going to happen that will involve what you describe.
There are huge windows across the front. Make sure they let in the sunlight or a view of the street at night. Don't waste anything; use it to put your reader in the scene.
Out of the corner of your character's eye watch a man at the next table reach out and touch the woman's hand. Connect that to the way your character feels about the woman he's with. Maybe he wishes he had the nerve to do the same. Why doesn't he? No long drawn out sentences; make a few words suffice.
The aroma of Italian food cooking may remind him of the last time he ate Italian food, who he was with, what that has to do with who he is with tonight. An old love? Someone he can't forget, but wishes he could because this woman he's with is so attractive, so smart and so worth loving.
Don't waste any chance to hook things together. Fiction happens tighter than the truth, and everything has a purpose to your story. To your character's emotions, to his hopes and dreams. There isn't space for stuff that has nothing to do with your story. It's all connected. Fiction is life with all the boring parts left out.
Everything that is happening affects the character. Most important to any scene is the character and how he feels, so I call emotion the sixth sense. Connect emotions, sensual feelings, the five senses. Smell is the sense that brings back memories quicker than any other. Let it happen, but make sure the memory will have an effect on the character in the present. Don't just lay it out there and let it drop. Again, be brief.
Integrate description with the action and keep it to a minimum. Internalization, narration, exposition and dialogue should all play a part in each scene.
If you're not sure you have succeeded in creating a good scene, take a paperback book that you thought was good and colored markers. Pick a scene and mark internalization with blue, dialogue with green, description with red, the use of the senses with yellow. This will give you an idea how this writer balances a good scene.
This should help you if you're having trouble with creating sense of place. Look over your scenes. If they could be taking place in New York or Texas or Australia or the moon, then you need to work on your sense of place.
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