Scene Setting, The Bleak Coast

Pretty much out of action still after a dental extraction that resulted in an allergic reaction, but here goes.  My novel in progress, a psychological thriller for teenagers and Young Adults.

She took cover in a brick shelter for a while, then braved it and sprinted the remainder of the way, down the shore path and up the steps to the promenade, aware that she looked a mess.

The walkway was slippery from rain, sand and mud. A large group of teenagers in hoodies stood outside the amusement arcade, smoking, shouting, laughing. She kept her eyes on the floor when she passed, conscious of their collective gaze. She ignored the sniggers and half-whispered comments, telling herself that they were stupid: at least she’d done exceptionally well at school and she had plenty of friends at Sixth Form – certainly enough friends to cover for her while she was here. She waited alone by the railings near the end of the pier, eyes fixed on the sea and the Grand Theatre further along, planning on what to say for when she confronted him.

Advertisements

From My Second Novel: More Bleak Scene Setting

Secrets, a psychological thriller set in Lancashire, UK.

The following takes place during the build up to the first major dramatic peak, about a week before the central character has to confront a person from his past.  After spending sixteen years in London, central character Alan is finding it hard to adjust to life in the north of England.

Ticton. Second time back. The familiar sites. Disused mill, shut down two-storey factory with large chimney set back from the road, parade of shops, rows of damp-looking terraced houses, waterworks further on, sky grey and dull. I catch a glimpse of Sheila Oscott by an upstairs window in her yellow cardigan, looking weary as she stares down on the empty cobbled street. Would I really want to return permanently to a place like this after enjoying more than sixteen years in London? 

A blast of damp air hits me in the face when I get out of the car and I nearly step into a puddle. The place is like a desert, barren and bare.

.

Novel Writing: Description Of A Storm

Weather descriptions can create problems in novel writing, apparently. Too many, and the reader may lose  interest.  None, and the reader may find the scene setting lacking. 

Then there’s the Pathetic Fallacy. In some cases, the tone of the weather hints at what is to come.

Here’s a description of a storm taken from my second novel, a psychological thriller.  In this scene, the main character is driving his eight-year-old son home from school.

We barely talk on the way back. Jazz FM plays on the car radio, my favourite station. Those dissonances calming my mood, calming my mind. The journey, though, is rough, and the steadily darkening sky warn of a prairies-like storm  Rain falls down my windscreen, making it difficult to see.

The rain sweeps across the surrounding grass verges in a downpour, splattering on the road ahead. At Rupton village, lightning streaks across the horizon, capturing a frozen shot of The Factory in the valley below: brown, muddy-red brickwork with turret-like windows and a tall chimney to side. Thunder, then more lightning and another glimpse of The Factory with the metal fencing surrounding the car park and the cooling towers and pylon grid further on. Austere.  More thunder and lightning. Torrents of rain and gusts of wind. Snapping branches and soaked leaves strewn along pavements. The steep winding road to the bottom of the valley glazed from the rain, tiny streams of waters trickle down the hill to join the river at the other side.

‘Wow,’ Robert says.

‘You like?’

He nods, but doesn’t smile.

The Scene Setting In My Novel

Originally, I’m from the north of England. The photos below show the type of the scenery I grew up with.   I’m hoping to bring alive some of the bleakness in my second novel, a psychological thriller.  The gist of the story is this: the central character Alan Holmes has recently moved to the north of England from London following the break up of his marriage.  Within a few days of arriving, he meets a childhood friend.  Flashbacks of an incident in the local woods follow, along with growing menace.

The North of EnglandThe North of EnglandThe North of EnglandThe North of England

Being Specific In Your Writing: Scene Setting

I suppose it’s obvious…be specific in what your describe…use words to paint pictures…make every location special, even when a location is mundane.

Yet, difficult to put into practice. 

Some creative writing instructors stress that less is best when it comes to scene setting, and there may be some truth to this.  Overwriting – in particular, relying on adjectives and adverbs, or repeating a point to add emphasis — spoils rather than helps the writing.   In some cases, the superfluous details and writing style will prevent the reader from getting to the story.

And yet, having a style that evokes atmosphere and immediacy is crucial to the story. I think someone once likened scene setting to the ingredient that causes a cake to rise whilst baking.  No ingredient, a flat cake.  

When I read the revised version of my second novel recently, a psychological thriller set in the north of England, I felt the opening quarter had improved in many ways, allowing for atmosphere and unfolding tension – exactly what I wanted.  Later sections of the story, however, seemed to fall flat again. 

I think the key to the problem lies in the scene setting itself.  Up to now, it’s been pretty vague.  A cottage in a village (no real description).  A lake on a hill (no name).  Playing fields at the bottom of the hill (could be anywhere).

I’ve changed the cottage to an old factory converted into apartments on glass balconies.  This, I feel, will allow the atmosphere to develop.  I’m enjoying placing my central character in situations that unsettle him – for instance, when he returns to The Factory with his young son on his second day there, he thinks someone’s watching them from the top balcony.

I’ve also added names to the hill and reservoir to make them distinct.

Early days, but I’m enjoying the revision.

Novel Writing and Revision: Like A Coat Of Paint

I tend to compare novel revision to adding extra layers of paint.  A person paints a surface, waits several hours, then goes back to it and adds a second (or third) coat of paint.  Having recently done a spot of painting, I can appreciate the analogy far more than before.  In fact, I would say that the writing process I enjoy the  most is revision, the filling in gaps with the paint brush.

Revision allows a writer to pause and bring out distinctive character traits, dialect voices and scene setting.  It enables a writer to develop stronger images and to deal with typing and grammatical errors.  I tend to scribble notes with a pen when I’m revising. 

Of course, I enjoy writing fresh material, but I find revision less drawn out and tiring.   Today, I edited a chapter of 2,000 words, then went on to write approximately 600 new words.

Creative Criticism

The editor’s report on my first novel will be available at the beginning of next week.  Apparently, it is common practice now in the UK for a writer to pay for an editor’s report before most agents will even consider taking on a new writer.   On a positive note, however, agents generally don’t tell writers to seek editorial help unless they think the story in question shows promise.

Meanwhile, I met with the local novelist group for my first feedback session on my current novel, a psychological thriller dealing with repressed memories and flashbacks.   The members of the group think my writing has improved substantially, especially in connection to scene setting, but feel there are fundamental problems with the plot, character interactions and overall structure.  Too many names of places and people too early on.  One member, in particular, thought I was concentrating too much on creating suspense.  

So it’s back to the basics of plot and structure.

Polishing and Tightening Plot

I’m still at it…revising the first six chapters of a draft, a psychological thriller I started earlier in the year.   Several times in the past, I’ve read that writers never find the novel writing process easy; if anything, the process gets harder over time because the writer’s standards increase.  I think that’s certainly true.  

Viewpoint, dialogue, scene setting….these seem manageable to a point.  The problem in this particular novel revolve around creating a feasible and believable plot.

Ruthless Plot Editing:Novel Writing

Unfortunately, I’m back to picking through some elements of the mystery plot in my first psychological thriller.  According to a literary agent, a lot of the novel is good, aside from the antagonist’s central story question that makes the story muddled.  Part of the problem, I think, has got to do with the copy and paste facility on most word processing programmes.  Eager to keep some of the descriptions and vivid scene setting in a previous draft, I moved several of the scenes to new sections using copy and paste, and rewrote these scenes in a different viewpoint, believing I’d finally solved the original problem.  The problem was never really dealt with, only restructured. 

When I read the entire novel through over a couple of evenings, I couldn’t believe how many inconsistencies there were in the new viewpoint chapters.   I think it is now a case of simplifying the revised sections and only working with those plot elements that support the protagonist’s story.

Sadly, I’ve had to place the third novel aside while I address the problems in the first, but I’ve backed everything up and look forward to returning to it later in the year.