How do you start a great and monumental scene? Do you open with dialogue? Do you start while the pressure is on your hero or heroine has to make a decision right away? Do you set the scene? Or do you mark the scene with some great philosophical quandary?
There isn’t a wrong answer, however there is one opening that is growing less and less popular–setting the scene. In the age of instant oatmeal (which I am a fan of), instant mashed potatoes, and instant celebrities. Most people want everything to happen instantly including some faithful bibliophiles who are like ‘chuck the deets give me the meat’.
If you’re anything like me what you really long to do is open a scene and spend at least a paragraph describing the way that the light refracted off of the river and illuminated the contour and freckles of your protagonist. But, “ain’t nobody got time for that.” So, is this a complaining ranting post where I talk about how much I long for the golden days of literature.
No way, it is important to do all things without murmuring and complaining and when possible I find a solution. Which I believe I have.
I don’t know how they figured out the formula, but magazine journalists have figured out the formula. There’s a way to set the scene and still engage the reader. Let’s look at two examples from Essence magazine:
“Keke Palmer is frozen in a selfie squat in 40-degree weather. It’s a familiar stance: knees slightly bent, chin up and a pout for the camera. We’re outside the backstage entrance of Manhattan’s Broadway Theatre, where steel barriers are the only thing separating her from a crowd of about 50 girls.” ~ “Sugar and Spice” by Clover Hope, Essence January 2015
“…She breezes into the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills pushing a carriage and looking like the picture of bliss. She peeks in on her little one, Titan Jewell Weatherspoon, before slipping into her seat and discussing the immense changes she has undergone over the past year.” (I’m not a fan, but I want to keep reading. I want to sip tea with them at the Four Seasons and get all into her business.) ~ “Oh Baby!” by Britni Danielle, Essence April 2015
Both examples provide the reader with enough details to visualize what’s going on without getting bogged down. That’s our job now as modern writers give the people a show-set a scene, but don’t drag them through the mud just to see it.
Sound difficult? It may be, actually it is. But try this to get you started, grab the closest magazine to you or hit the local market and pick up a magazine, turn to the feature article and check out how the author expertly weaves in details that set the scene and engage you as a reader. Nothing lost and everything gained.
Like what you see? After you finish reading try creating your own grand opening? How do you set a scene?