Giving Life to Old Scenery

I’m taking a break from doing author interviews, because an interesting topic came up in some NaNo groups I participate in. Some authors are using the same scenery repeatedly, becoming challenged on how to change it to make it interesting for readers.

When a writer is bored with their scenery, it reflects in their writing. Readers will know and eventually criticize in reviews, or put the book down before finishing. Therefore, this post will discuss how to change up some of those boring scenes and revive them into something new and refreshing.

#1: Is the scenery critical to the plot?
The scene needs to carry importance each time you are writing, whether it is a fresh start, or someone is there for the third or fourth time in that book (such as a home, office or in a car). The characters are there for a reason, and the reader needs to know why it’s important to the character (especially if they keep returning to the same places).

To just go somewhere with no purpose is pointless. People do wander around aimlessly, but a novel’s meant to guide a reader through a story, not feel as if they’re searching the parking lot for their car. You are the writer. Direct the reader and make them understand your characters and their thoughts toward scenes.

#2: Why is this scenery important?
Every scene, as said before, needs to have a purpose and reason. Unless you make up your character’s ill for no reason, they shouldn’t be visiting an hospital unless they’re injured, guarding someone (yes, this can happen), or visiting a person who’s not in good health. (Or taking them there, but that’s for another day.)

People tend to take certain places and make them mundane after being there two to three times. Examples I’ve seen in writing include homes, offices and meetings with certain individuals, like bosses.
And forests in epic fantasy. I understand that there’s no modern conveniences in epic fantasy, but I don’t need three pages explaining characters are walking through trees without dialogue or exposition explaining the character’s thoughts or position. Going on about the color of trees, bark, roots and such does not interest me.

So, think of the reason your character NEEDS to be at this scene. Are they trying to solve a problem and suddenly, their only reason blows in an explosion? Are they just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it’s critical to move the story? Is it part of their past they can’t let go?

All these questions should be taken into consideration when placing your character in certain situations and scenery, because honestly, some things don’t need to take place. Unless meeting someone at a restaurant is critical to your story, you don’t need six pages of characters eating at a fancy restaurant.

#3: How does your scene influence the characters (main and supporting)?
Impact is important; I’ve watched writers get lazy with setting up a scene they’ve used two or more times in the story. If the scene is important to the main character, they’re going to fixate on that in their POV SOMEHOW. This can be nervous tics, disapproval when they desecrate something, nostalgic thoughts, respect for the scenery or building, or can even tell a story behind it.

I’ll give an example.

In my series, I have several scenes taking place in various cars. Two in particular come to mind, and one in the second book. Okay, readers see they’re in this expensive car, but the mood changes depending on the action. There are times where the main character races on the highway by herself, trying to get the adrenaline rush to stop thinking of her problems.

Other times, she’s trying to maintain control, because she hates teleportation and knows her partner’s scared of her driving habits.

Then, there’s times where the mood completely changes – one person is silent, and the other’s coaxing someone out of their shell to talk about their problems.

Now, each of these scenes take place in a car. However, the three scenarios allow the writer to take that scene and transform it, using the POV they choose, the thoughts of that POV and their regular actions and thoughts to make it into something unique. Keep in mind that one place could mean something good for one character, and something horrifying for another.

Also, the same scenery could be important later. In this example, Aviere’s Ferrari is part of a backstory; sprinkled through two books until her story arc in three, where her partners learn the reason she’s so attached to the Ferrari.

But other characters warn other characters about the car and her attitude, so the male lead gets sick of Aviere personifying her car, buying thousands of dollars in parts, and talking to the Ferrari like it will answer her back.

#4: What is the ultimate purpose of this scenery?
Scenery, especially in certain genres, play a purpose in world-building. Characters shouldn’t be thrown into places “just because it seems cool” or “I’d like to see what they’d do”. At that point, you’re in the realm of role-playing, not novel writing.

You need to have a purpose for your scenes – each and every place you pick within the story. If you don’t know, draft. Write it down. Sometimes, you know the names, but not what and why, and that’s okay. Don’t write those scenes until you have the answers.

There’s nothing like placing characters into situations which don’t exist, serve no purpose, or don’t hold up in the world you’ve built. For example, you can’t say technological devices don’t work somewhere, and then break your own rule several chapters later. Your readers will wonder what’s wrong with you, or why you had a rule for it in the first place.

#5: What message do you want to send to your readers?
Readers notice small and large details, so you want to make sure your scenery ties together. For example, the trademark on my covers happens to be cars, so it’s one reason I had car scenes. (That, and it correlates with the main character’s hobby/obsession sometimes.)

Each writer wants their readers to feel something about their book, or take away a message from their writing. In order to do that, everything needs to line up, from having great, memorable characters to setting up scenes you can use again, but have different memories and meanings for.

It’s hard to accomplish and may take a few drafts to do this, but you’ll thank yourself when your readers understand what you’re trying to do or say in your work.

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