As writers we all strive to compose vivid, dynamic scenes that stick with the reader long after they close the book. Scenes created so well that they allow the reader to escape space and time and enter into another world. But, how is it done? What makes these scenes work? What is the magic spell that turns ordinary into extraordinary?
Fat, juicy, unique details can turn the mundane to magical. Note I did not say adjectives, we are not describing things here. We are seeking out those little gems that add oomph. Now, there are those talented writers who manage to capture all these gems during the first draft, I am not one of them. I’m one of those who must push and pull at a scene, reshaping and polishing before it will sing. Right now most of my manuscript is a tuneless mess.
Let’s have fun with this –
Below is a scene from Tolkien’s, Fellowship of the Ring. This first example has all the details stripped out, all we see is the action – which is great – but it could be so much more.
“Gandalf lifted his staff and smote the bridge. The staff broke. The bridge cracked. At the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone crashed into the gulf.
“The Balrog fell forward and vanished. As it fell it swung its whip about the wizard’s knees. He fell. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”
Now I’m going be naughty and add adjectives and adverbs instead of details, let’s see what we get –
“Gandalf the white lifted his mighty staff and smote the bridge. The staff broke unexpectedly. The narrow stone bridge cracked loudly. At the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone crashed into the endless gulf.
The Balrog fell forward clumsily and vanished. As it fell, it swung its barbed whip about the wizard’s knees. He fell. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried desperately, and was gone.”
That was painful for me to write, I have a passion for slashing pointless adverbs and adjectives so putting them in was hard. I kept wanting to answer all the questions my inner reader kept shouting at me. What happened when he used his staff, wasn’t it magic? Did Gandalf struggle when the whip snares him? What is left of the bridge? What was the Balrog’s reaction when faced with a wizard? The list goes on.
Here is the passage how Tolkien wrote it:
“At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into the emptiness.
“With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”
Next time you feel that your writing is missing something start asking questions and filling in the missing details. Your story and your readers will thank you for it.