Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Movie in My Head

By Nichole Giles

I love reading. Any time of the day, I can pick up a book of my choice and read about far away lands and characters whose lives, while far from ideal, evoke strong emotions in me. One of my favorite things is to see the surroundings in a book through the main character’s eyes.

For some authors, descriptions are important, and the imagery comes through loud and clear with the right words. Other authors give very little description, just enough to give the reader a general idea, and then leave the rest up to our imagination. Scene is as important to your story as dialogue.

There has never been a movie made that showed scenes from a book the way they played in my head. Personally, I think they’re way better in my head than onscreen. But that’s just me, and since I’m the only person who sees those versions, well…I guess my opinion is the only one that matters, huh?

When you’re writing, how do you put into words the things you see in your head? I think it’s a process that must be learned by most people. A really good way to learn imagery is to read books with lots of excellent descriptions. Pick one that is set in a distant land, or a fantastical world, and pay attention to the words the author has used in describing the character’s surroundings.

As you’re reading, remember that scene is more than the things the character sees. What can he or she feel? What do they touch? Can they smell or taste something? Does their mouth water or feel dry? Answering all these questions gives our readers a deeper, stronger connection to the characters in the story, allowing the characters to find a way into our hearts—even if that character is the bad guy.

As much as this is all very important, I offer a word of caution. Too much description can bog down the story. Be careful not to describe every leaf on every tree, every blade of grass, or every single smell in the air. Pick the most relevant ones, the ones that stand out from the rest, and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. We walk a fine line between what is enough and what is too much, and so must try extra hard to find just the right balance.

For example, last time I flew on an airplane, I wrote three pages of description in my notebook about flying in case I ever needed to use it for a story. Turned out, I did. Of that three pages, only bits and pieces got squeezed into my scene, about enough to fill two paragraphs. But it was good description, and made the scene come alive for my readers.
The moral of the story is, take all the notes you can, but use only the relevant details that stick in your mind. Your characters will thank you for making their world seem real, and your readers will thank you for creating the best movie their head has ever shown.


ali said...

That's a great tip to take detailed notes on experiences so you can use them as fodder in future books. Thanks!

Don said...

I can write great descriptions (at least I like them) but I have a hard time remembering to put them in my story. I know what everything looks like, and I need to be reminded by my readers that "Hey, we could use some description right about here."

Nichole Giles said...

I've found keeping notes on things like that very handy. Especially with my current book.

Thanks for commenting, Ali and Don.