Across a Crowded Room: What to Include in Descriptions
QUESTION: I have a scene in a restaurant where staff is coming and going. How do I describe that? Do I mention all the movement?
This is really about viewpoint. You are describing the scene from your viewpoint character's perspective. What will she see?
Imagine this. You are in your favorite romantic restaurant. Across from you is your special someone or your favorite sexy actor. You are eating your meal, flirting, and talking. Would you be aware of who is coming in and out of the room?
Your character in a similar situation would do the same thing.
Imagine this. You are in that restaurant with that sexy lover, but someone wants to kill you.
You would be very aware of who is coming and going in the room, and so would your viewpoint character.
If it's a situation that's emotionally neutral like a banquet meal with servants coming and going to bring food, you can say something like "A steady stream of servants, each with a large tray of food or an empty bowl, moved through the room tending the tables."
Then, unless there's a reason to mention the servants again, or a servant again, you don't mention them. The reader will fill in the visual blanks.
Sometimes, it's hard to decide what to include in our descriptions of a scene.
The trick to deciding is to remember that you're in a character's viewpoint. Ask yourself what is important to that character.
A cop entering a room where a gunman may be hidden is seeing different things than an interior designer who enters a room a rival has just decorated. The cop doesn't give a damn about the charming shade of blue in the wallpaper, but he'll notice the large pieces of furniture someone could be behind, the amount of light and shade in the room that makes seeing movement tricky, and the possible exits.
At the same time, the character will be aware of the sounds and smells in the room-- the faint smell of gun oil, the Chanel No. 5 of the wealthy woman who owns the home, the tap of the nails as a toy poodle moves across the oak floor, and the slight rustle of something moving behind a curtain.
With just the right specific touches, the room will come alive for the reader and at the same time you're building tension and giving character details, and you're not stopping the action.
Copyright © 2008 by Marilynn Byerly
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