Write 2 Be Magazine

For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box

Setting the Scene in Your Novel: Getting Descriptions Right by Nhys Glover

The following extract is from the beginning of an Historical Romance I wrote that is set in Ancient Rome. My job was to create the scene as clearly and vividly as I could in as few words as possible. Long-winded descriptions like Dickens used to write are no longer popular with readers, and even if they were, I wouldn’t have the patience to write them. But a writer does have an obligation to set the scene so her reader can clearly imagine what is happening. See if I did that:

‘Decaneus staggered slowly to his feet. The guards who had dumped him on the hot, hard-packed sand of the arena were already making their hasty exit. They’d removed his chains just after dragging him from his dark cell. Now his arms felt oddly light after having worn the manacles for so long. The skin where the iron had rubbed was raw and already putrefying. He knew that unless his wounds were treated soon they’d kill him.

But maybe he wouldn’t live long enough for them to kill him. He became aware of the sounds around him now. People. Crowds of people. He looked up from studying his wrists to see in the stark midday sun thousands of people arranged in tiered rows around him. Few seemed to be looking his way. Most were chatting, oblivious to the predicament of a lone barbarian prisoner-of-war standing in the centre of the bloodstained oval.

He wasn’t stupid, nor was he ignorant. He may come from the Dacian hills in the wilds north of Illyria, but even there they’d heard of the Roman arenas where brutal spectacles were staged to amuse the masses. He knew where he stood.

But it was the size that overwhelmed him in that moment. This amphitheatre was monstrous. It stood three stories high and happily contained tens of thousands. More people than Decaneus had ever seen in his life.

He heard a short trumpet blast. His eyes were drawn to the northern gate above which stood an ostentatiously decorated box, complete with canopy to protect its occupants from the sun. It had to be the Imperial box, he decided, and there were richly dressed people in it who were only now beginning to rise to leave. Were they not staying for the fun?

A few less jaded members of the audience suddenly gasped. Decaneus registered their excitement and followed their gazes. They weren’t looking at him. Instead, they stared, open-mouthed at a lone lion that was loping into the arena to join him. The creature looked as stunned by his situation as Decaneus was.’

In this opening scene from Lionslayer’s Woman I needed to take my reader out of her modern world and put her slap bang into the head of an ancient warrior getting his first sight of the Colosseum. I had to give some indication of who he was and why he was there, but without ‘backstory’. I had to hook my reader, get her wanting to know what was going to happen next.

To do this it is important to engage as many of the senses as possible. So it’s not just about describing the visuals, it’s about capturing the feel of the heat and the sounds of the people and trumpets. And of course, my hero’s emotional and physical reaction to what he’s experiencing has to be included.

The reader has to empathise with this barbarian, even if they’ve never heard of Dacia or what it is to be a barbarian warrior. And when you’re writing for women, as I am, this empathy is particularly important. Women are as interested in how someone is feeling as they are in the actual events. If she can’t put herself in the protagonist’s shoes (or sandals in the case of a Roman historical) then she’s not going to want to keep walking the journey in those shoes.

I consider I use description like a water-colourist paints a landscape – in broad brushstrokes and sketched outlines. That way it doesn’t slow down the action but it does give an impression of place. I’m told I’m good at it… I leave it to you to be the judge of that.

Nhys Glover is a UK Best Selling author of Romance Fiction. You can find out more about her and her books at http://www.nhysglover.com

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About jcladyluv

Jimmetta Carpenter is the Editor and Creator of the Free Fall Literary E-Zine and the Spoken Like A Queen E-Zine. She has dedicated herself to the power of the words and given into her passion for writing and has been writing poetry officially since the age of ten. She has a book of poetry titled “The Art of Love” published through lulu.com under the pen name Gemini. She is currently finishing up with her first novel and already working on her second. In 1998 she had her poem “Rest In Peace” published in an anthology put out by the International Library of Poetry and in the Spring of 2007 will have another poem titled “Through The Eyes of an Angel” published in another anthology also put out by the International Library of Poetry. She was also awarded the Editor’s Choice Award for that poem as well. She is looking forward to having a very long and rewarding career in writing and hopes that through living out her dreams she can inspire someone else out there to realize theirs. Her advice to other up and coming authors is to NEVER stop believing N your dreams and don’t ever be afraid to dream big. Jimmetta can be contacted by sending her an e-mail at freefall_lbp@yahoo.com or jcladyluv@yahoo.com.

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This entry was posted on October 13, 2016 by in Contributing Writers and tagged , , , , , .

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