Brad is the brains behind The Simulacrum, the mystery/thriller we’ve been writing for the past few years. The brilliant story idea is his, the complicated outline is his, the fairly decent first draft is his. So what am I adding to this collaborative effort?
Yep, I’m the fluffer. I’m the one who goes back in and, among other things, builds the scene setting from the ground up.
I just finished a segment where the bad guys break into the heroine’s condo and tear it apart, searching for a fossilized human skull–the one item that will prove the coexistence of human and dinosaur. And, basically, that’s what Brad wrote. The bad guys went in and tore the place apart.
You can’t fault him for that. His job is to transfer his idea into a first draft–in other words, to get it down–and he did that. My job, as I see it, is to bring his idea to life. And the best way for me to do that is to visualize in minute detail what’s going on.
Since this was our first trip inside the heroine’s apartment, I took the opportunity to further present her personality and personal interests. Characterization can be enhanced with a few descriptions about the home setting–a character’s personal space.
Taking what I knew about our character, I closed my eyes and visualized what her place would look like, down to the smallest detail. Not everything I pictured needed to be included in the narrative, but it helped me to see the kinds of things that would better round out our character.
In her office, our heroine has bookshelves where tomes about green energy, evolution, and paleontology rub binders with mystery and romance novels. Angled toward an electric fireplace are an overstuffed chair and matching ottoman, with a side table easily within reach. The table holds current copies of Archeology Today, Newsweek, and Cosmo. A few plaques and awards line the walls. Her graduate and post graduate degrees. Pictures of her with various renown scientists.
In writing all this, you’d think I violated one of my cardinal rules–put the character in the setting. Well, I did put the character in the setting. BG #1 shifted each picture and plaque in search of a wall safe.
Point is, even though you don’t know her name yet, you know a quite bit about her. Granted, my main weakness is not being an interior decorator. “Overstuffed chair” is overused these days to the point of being cliche. Chances are huge I’ll take a shopping trip in cyberspace in search of the right kind of furniture and more descriptive phrases. Even furniture type tells about the character. Modern? Victorian? Warm and cozy, or stiff and proper? For this character, modern is perfect. And what I know about modern furniture could fill a pin head.
Take time examining each scene’s setting. Describe it to the fullest on a separate page, then pick the most telling things that help you achieve your goal in the scene. Is your scene in a desert? What do you want to portray–the hot sand reflecting the sun’s heat, or the flowers that stubbornly refuse to die? This choice can set your mood. Does the hotel have marble floors or chipped linoleum? Do neon lights flash through the windows, or does New York traffic hum your character to sleep? All the little details can add to characterization, tone, mood–whatever you want to enhance.
Keep the pace of your scene in mind while you’re choosing what to describe. If your heroine is being chased up the stairs by a knife-wielding murderer, you don’t want to stop and describe the room the staircase is found in. But you can say that the red-carpeted steps muffled the sound of her shoes as she ran. And if you’re a fashionista, you can even name the kind of shoes she wore.
Whether the narrative calls for thorough description or quick, descriptive words and phrases, taking time to visualize the setting can bring the scene life.
Update, of sorts: That nasty little surprise that cropped up a couple of weeks ago (and that I mentioned last week) took my doctor by surprise too. She wasn’t any happier about seeing it than I was and ordered another CT scan to figure out what’s going on. I go in for another scan tomorrow and will find out the results Thursday. I hope it’s not as bad as everyone thinks.