Writing Tips; Rule #4

Describing a Scene

Closely related to describing characters is describing a scene. Just as with characters, no matter how detailed the description no two people will see or interpret it the same way. Thus, why overdo it?
One hundred to one hundred and - fifty years ago it might have made sense to describe a raging sea against the coast in exhaustive detail. However, we have become a more visual society. Readers have seen raging waves in pictures, movies, news videos, and perhaps experienced them first had; much more so than our ancestors.
Great effort had to be taken by Herman Melville to describe the sea because many of his readers had never seen it and had no point of reference. Melville had to take a reader from the wheat fields of Kansas to the whaling grounds of the South Seas. The largest body of water seen by a farm boy may have been the farm pond down the road.
Every word spent on describing something the reader may already have a perception is a word taken away from advancing the story.
Certainly “raging sea” is not enough. Some idea can be given to the intensity and height, but the shape of each one does not have to be described. If it is drama and intensity being built do so my describing the effects it has on the character or his peril. Try the use of dialogue.
There are exceptions and much depends on the writer. The writer or storyteller should read the episode being described; aloud if need be. If the description slows down or distracts it may lose the reader. They may dog-ear the page and never return.
Much like it was mentioned with characters if you really really have to describe a scene that you feel is needed, do so in little bites.
The small boat was tossed by the raging sea. Joe staggered up the steps of the companionway. Just as he stood on deck a wave heaved over the cabin’s roof.”
There, I think that’s enough to let everyone know that Joe is in deep stuff.
Joe slipped on his feet and grabbed the tiller. He looked for the coast line. The boat sunk deep in the swells, nothing but water surrounded him. And when the boat rose - there was no land in sight.”
Joe has just gotten deeper in do do.
The point is that the story was advanced and intensified without stopping for a description of the sea. It was set alongside Joe’s dilemma and made it greater. It didn’t take away, it added.
Joe’s eye widened at the site of the next wave approaching, “’Dear God, save me!’” Dialogue lets the reader know the wave is really really big. Characters can tell the reader much more than the writer.