Setting a Scene: A Creative Writing Excercise

DCP_0039In an earlier post, I talked about using an image diary as a writing exercise. Writing down a scene is a similar process: you pick a scene from your daily life, take a moment, and describe what you see. For instance, you might take a break from cleaning your garage to describe the way that tools and spare bits of lumber are arranged on the far wall next to the workbench.

This exercise is the writer’s equivalent of an an artist drawing a still life for practice. In both instances, you’re fine-tuning the way you communicate a group of images to an audience. Many writers find scene-setting to be a difficult task when composing a creative work. It’s easy to use too little or too much detail, and language can seem like an inadequate tool for conveying a sense of space or form. However, with practice, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier to give your reader a good sense of where the story is happening.

When you practice setting a scene by describing scenes from life, pay attention to efficiency of language as well as elegance of language. You want the reader’s attention to be gripped by the images themselves, not the florid language you’ve chosen to describe them. It may take some time to get settled into a cadence that flows beautifully but still gets the job done. As with all writing exercises, practice really makes perfect when describing scenes from life.

You can complete this exercise in any setting, from a beautiful riverbank to your office’s break room. The important thing is to keep at it until you’ve developed a good sense of what you need to convey when you describe your setting to your reader. Learning to set a scene with efficient and beautiful language is a key step to becoming a great writer.

Making Your Writing More Vivid, Six Images at a Time

The maxim “show, don’t tell” is an integral part of every writer’s education. Memorable stories are not told through ponderous descriptions, but rather through vivid images that come alive in the reader’s mind. Well-chosen images can convey emotion, character development, mood, and many other facets of a well-rounded story. However, the art of selecting and understanding images is sometimes neglected among writers of prose.

Rainbow over magic valleyAn image diary is a tool used by some imagist poets to help them learn to use images more effectively. The concept is simple and easy. Every day, write down six images that stand out to you. They don’t have to be be images that strike us as particularly lofty or poetic; my own image diary contains its share of purple celluloid sponges and glass jars lined up on shelves. The important thing about these images is that we notice them and find the words to record them.

At first, keeping the diary can feel like a stiff and silly process. Describing even a simple image is harder than it looks. We start to write it down, and two words in we realize that we don’t know what part of the image really caught our eye in the first place. However, practice makes perfect, and the process of capturing images will get easier as you fill your notebook with descriptions of primer-black cars parked out of line and wind-broken branches and tweed snapback hats on passers-by.

Although some of the images in your diary will find their way into your fiction or poetry, the real value of this tool is the vocabulary of images it gives you. As you collect images, you will learn new things about the way you describe and think about your world. It may occur to you to drop some old habits and pick up some new ones. It may occur to you that you emphasize form, color, or lines when you visualize an object. It may occur to you that the sight of torn cobwebs stirs a vague, sad memory deep in your stomach.

Whatever particular lessons you learn from keeping an image diary, you can rest assured that they will impact the way you use imagery in your writing. I’ve found this to be a very worthwhile task that has made my writing more vivid, powerful, and memorable.