Books are more than words on a page. When we read them their stories seem filled with real people and places in our imaginations. But how, as writers, do we achieve this clarity of picture in the mind of a reader? I took a long hard look at the opening chapter of my novel, Wolf Soul, and came up with the following:
How can we see without illumination? When writing a scene its a good idea to describe to the reader how its lit. This can also be a very good way to suggest mood. This is how I chose to light my opening scene:
“The moon was setting and Slav could see the blue ridge of dawn lighting the horizon out across the vineyards.”
“Lanterns blinked, uneven, in the frosted morning, light and dark swaying across the faces in the crowd as they turned to stare at him.”
Pictures are visual, and one of our main visual inputs is colour. Adding a touch of colour into your prose can help the reader imagine the scene in their mind’s eye. These are the two dabs of colour I used:
“Slav could see the blue ridge of dawn …”
“More blood greeted him inside, the vivid red soaking straw and hay.”
Strangely, using senses other than sight is also a good way to establish a strong scene picture. Here’s how I used Slav’s senses to help portray the setting:
The blood was fresh, the smell of it overpowering. He felt his stomach twist. Fear and panic still clung to the stifled air. He could hear it in the bleat and bark of the animals.
Don’t Describe the Rabbit
Finally, some advice I received from Nick Perring, many moons ago. You don’t need to describe every last detail. An impression is better as it lets the reader use the knowledge they already have. If I say ‘Rabbit’ you already have a picture in your head of your idea of a rabbit. If I try and control that image with too much detailed description it can actually make it harder for you to see the rabbit, not easier. In the opening scene of Fury I didn’t need to describe the barn in any detail, or the state of it inside. The following two lines sufficed:
“He limped towards the open barn door and went in.”
“Shattered planks lay scattered across the floor.”
The Whole Picture
Put it all together and this is what you get:
“The moon was setting and Slav could see the blue ridge of dawn lighting the horizon out across the vineyards. Behind him the forest mountains rose, mutinous and sullen, the unforgiving backbone of Moldavia. Lanterns blinked, uneven, in the frosted morning, light and dark swaying across the faces in the crowd as they turned to stare at him. It didn’t take much to fuel the fire of superstition in the village. People stepped back opening a path for him to the widow’s barn.
Slav wasn’t afraid of them. He’d done nothing wrong. Their own fear made them stupid; to think him cursed because of a wolf bite. He wasn’t going to hide in the shadows and let them blame him. He limped towards the open barn door and went in.
More blood greeted him inside, the vivid red soaking straw and hay. Shattered planks lay scattered across the floor. The widow’s prize cow hadn’t gone quietly. Slav shifted a piece of broken wood with his foot. The blood was fresh, the smell of it overpowering. He felt his stomach twist. Fear and panic still clung to the stifled air. He could hear it in the bleat and bark of the animals.”
If you have enjoyed this post – you might like to see how I put my methods into practice in my other work by reading SNAP by Lizzie Hexter, available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com.au, iTunes and Kobo.