Techniques For Fleshing Out A Scene In A Novel

This a companion piece to the material I’d recently written on techniques for fleshing out a character. And while certain components are the same, many techniques for crafting fuller scenes are quite different.
Consider Fitzgerald’s Technique of Loading up the Start of the Narrative
In creating a lasting scene for the reader, it can and often requires a substantial set up. Literature’s greatest writers have earned their reputations by possessing this ability. In my opinion no one was better at crafting an opening scene that was strong enough to carry an entire story than Fitzgerald. For me, the start of TENDER IS THE NIGHT is as good as it gets. I have never forgotten Fitzgerald’s description of the cupolas atop the old villas along the beach, which he likened to rotting water lilies.
Then he spends a couple hundred words on the physical scenery and people who inhabited this area on the French Riviera, before settling on a mother and daughter–the point when the real magic begins. Readers already feel they know Rosemary Hoyt, even though she’s just been introduced. This is what fleshing out a scene is all about, because soon afterward the reader has no problem accepting everything about Dick and Nicole Diver, since they enter the story as homogeneous plot elements.
Hemingway Used a Paucity of Words to Say a Great Deal
Hemingway used what some describe as terse writing, yet he was able to craft such skillful exposition that his narrative style won him both a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize for Literature. His short stories are wonderfully emblematic of his skill. THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO is a perfect tale to study, since the physical scenery is the story, which starts with a page of dialogue broken only by a brief description of some birds that are referred to as filthy. The single word “filthy,” which the reader learns is a metaphor having nothing to do with unsanitary conditions, sets the scene and ultimately the mood for the entire piece.
Scene Development and the Physical Setting
Everyone has a favorite writer for one reason or another. If a person likes tremendous depth in both characters and the scenes that surround them, Jody Picoult, Pat Conroy, and Barbara Kingsolver come to mind for many of us. But for pure scene creation, I’m going to suggest someone who is not often considered these days, and this is Emile Zola. Read NANA, for example, but forget about the protagonist and just focus on how Zola sets up his story from the perspective of the physical environment. The streets, the shops, the weather, the attitudes of the people; each element creates a powerful image as the story moves along.
It’s Solely a Matter of Imagination, Since Fleshing Out a Scene Can Take any Direction
Fleshing out a scene might require the description of a village, the interior of a building, the heavy perfume people are wearing at a Broadway opening, a little boy’s tattered clothing, the street argot a gang of ruffians is using, an old man’s gait, the sounds of the night, the heat of the day, the cars on the street, the commotion in a mall during a holiday, a quiet wind, the bitter cold, a baby crying incessantly, a roar from inside a stadium, a cacophony of explosions from afar, the musings of a philosopher sitting on a park bench, the attitudes of the townspeople after an election, the poor design of an intersection, a pastor’s avuncular disposition, the lawlessness of the inhabitants in a border town, the joyous atmosphere at a wedding reception, and on ad infinitum.
Fleshing Out a Scene is As Much about Tempo As Anything
The most important thing to take away from this article is that the opening scene will most often set the mood for an entire story. And if a writer will take the time to read some of the works I suggested in this article, this will enable a solid understanding of the different options that are available to maintain or advance the desired characterizations along the way.

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