I sometimes have a hard time with a very basic part of writing a scene: describing who is there and what they are doing. This is especially ironic. I’m a journalist in my day job. I make a living writing the who, what, where, when and why in each one of my stories in a lively and concise manner.
Why is it harder for me to put what journalists call the five Ws together into my book? I think it’s partly because where a chapter in my book should start and what the focal point should be isn’t a clear as the focal point of a news story. Also, while spare prose and brevity is generally a good thing for a journalist, there is such a thing as being too concise. I’m definitely guilty of that. Finally, I worry that the simplest ways of saying where characters are and what they were doing can sound boring and hackneyed. The writers who can set up a scene in a unique, engaging way deserve a lot of credit – I think it’s harder to write a good opening paragraph to a chapter than to write a good ending.
There are a number of YA writers who have the technical and creative skills to do a really good job of this. A few standouts that I’ve read have been Gayle Forman in If I Stay and its sequel, Where She Went. Forman is also excellent at physically moving a character from one place to another. Megan Whalen Turner, another one of my favorite authors, does a fantastic job of this in her Queen’s Thief series. And Mary McCarthy, author of The Group, sets scenes in two ways that I really admire: she manages to make you feel like you’re part of the gossipy group of young women that she’s writing about and also completely sticks to the voice of the narrator.
Are there any writing exercises that anyone has ever done to make this easier? Let me know in the comments section below!