7

I often struggle with details in a scene, and thought maybe I could just skip some of them while trying to keep the scene seamless, but I'm not sure how. This is an example from the scene I'm writing (it's the only scene I've written so far in this story).

"Copy Flight," confirmed Tom, flicking some switches on the main panel. Several of the instrument lights turned blue in response to the remote control handover.

"Sit back and enjoy the flight, Demeter. We'll take it from here," finished Flight.

"Thank you Flight, contact soon," responded Mel with a smile. She looked over to Tom who looked back and smiled, then checked the rest of the crew.

...

"Breakfast not sitting too well, hey Jayden?" Tom called out. Jay just smiled rigidly and stayed quiet.

Tom looked over to one of the displays on his left. "Throttle up and roll in 5... 4... 3... 2..."

He braced as the shuttle accelerated to beyond Mach 3 and like a slow choreographed dance, began to smoothly roll around until it was on top of the main fuel tank.

I've been quite detailed in the experience of the launch, and so it probably wouldn't seem right to just skip ahead. My gut says to stick it out, since I've been writing at a certain level of detail already but I'm struggling to fill the gaps in.


Update: (for those interested in what I've changed about the writing)

I actually began rewriting the scene using your answers as guidance, and it feels much better. This is not meant to be a "review my story", rather just to show how I did change my perspective on the writing style.

"Main Engines Start", said the Flight Director, then continued to count down. Tom looked over.

"I can't believe you got me in this chair, Mel," he said while shaking his head with a grin.

"Well, you're stuck with me now," she replied without looking at him. She flushed a little, though Tom couldn't see it through the reflection of her helmet.

"Everything's good from here, crew is go for launch," Tom confirmed.

A few seconds later, the countdown ended and with a deafening rumble, the shuttle rose into the air as plumes of water vapour billowed out violently into the surrounding fields.

No more than 30 seconds into the flight, the cabin shook violently and the entire crew grabbed onto their seats. Tom over looked to Mel uneasily.

"Some roughness through second phase, Houston," he said.

"Radar is clear," replied the flight director a few moments later. "All green as far as we can tell."

"Roger that," confirmed Tom, unsure of what to think.

Their nerves calmed as the sky grew darker and darker until they were able to see the faint shimmering of stars littered endlessly across the blackness of space. Mel peered out the window, captivated by the beauty of it.

"I never get used to this," she said.

"You can get lost in it if you stare too long," said Jayden, the mission's electrical engineer and secondary pilot.

"Hocus pocus," said Tom in jest.

"Space is bigger than anything we can ever imagine, cap," he replied. "Can do strange things to the mind if you let it."

"Yeah, well here in the real world, we have a shuttle to dock," said Tom.

"Houston, we are coming up on the ISS. Preparing to dock, over," said Mel over comms. "You have the stick, Jay."

7

In my own writing, I skip everything that I'm not interested in.

I don't care if it is usually part of other novels, because if I read those, I usually skip reading those parts as well or only scan them quickly to have an idea of what is going on. I totally rely on my readers to have seen so many movies and read so many books in my genre, that they are familiar with spaceships or whatever I'm writing about and will complete my very bare bones description.

It's the same with launch sequences as it is with people: you would normally not describe any character in a novel with more than very general terms. You give their gender, age, sometimes you add height ("tall") or eye color ("piercing blue eyes"), and that's about it. More would bore the reader and hinder their identification (by putting whoever they want in place of that character). The same is true for everything else. You don't decribe cars, rooms or anything with more than general terms, if the detail is not centrally important for your story.

Handle the launch sequence the same way you would handle starting a car, and leave out everything that is not relevant to your storyline. The sample text in your question is actually boring me out of wanting to read your novel!

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  • Now that I read it, I think you're right in that while I do want to focus a lot of the character dynamics of the crew as they get started on the mission, it's perhaps too descriptive of everything about the launch. To be honest, this is the first scene I've started writing in this particular story so a lot of details are about the character's and the plot are yet to emerge. – Nick Bedford May 21 '15 at 8:15
  • Also, please take my comment with a grain of salt. I don't know what this scene is about, don't care about the characters and am reading this completely out of context. – user5645 May 21 '15 at 9:35
  • This is true. As a reader I assume that anything the author describes is either relevant to the story or at minimum something the author wants to tell because it interests him. If you describe anything that doesn't fit those criteria you are simply distracting the reader. And as what said, take with grain of salt. There are usually matters of style and pacing etc... – Ville Niemi May 21 '15 at 14:41
  • 1
    No you were absolutely right about it. I added my rewrite to the answer to show the difference. – Nick Bedford May 22 '15 at 1:16
  • Now I can't wait to learn what will happen next! Great work, @NickBedford ! – user5645 May 22 '15 at 6:39
5

You should find a way to skip ahead. If you don't want to write it the reader won't want to read it either. And your references to 'some switches' and 'several lights' suggest you aren't really invested in this scene at all. If you want to jump ahead though, you need to jump too something so concoct a little bit of drama.

Things to try:

Focus on the main character's perception of time. It may race past, punctuated only by the things that aren't routine.

Similar to the above, focus on some other internal concern of the main character, again, punctuated by choice moments.

Have the launch entirely automated, and focus on character development instead. Movies do it all the time: picture two characters bickering in the middle of a car chase.

Make out like you're going to wrap up the chapter at the moment of launch, then surprise the reader by a sudden jump forward. Eg have Tom run through the next 10 minutes in his head, conclude that it's entirely routine and mentally switch off. Then have someone yelling in his ear. It's five minutes later and there's a dangerous gas escape.

A short version of the above. Project the reader ahead in time.' In ten minutes we'll be safe in orbit,' he said. Five minutes later, warning sirens blared.

Watch through the eyes of someone unfamiliar and nervous. Make it a confusion of buttons, noise, radio chatter, all out of order with jarring jump cuts.

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2

I have this exact same problem, I'm glad you asked the question!

The other answers have been very helpful, and I'll take be using their suggestions in my own work. I've been looking at cutting down some portions of my story, and this will help immensely.

In case you absolutely need the 'intermediate' scenes, I will offer suggestions to what I've been doing with them so far.

I generally use the scenes between the action packed scenes to progress the character development. Describing characters wandering through a marketplace, whilst on its own can be boring, can also be used to have a conversation between the characters, and advance the plot that way.

To address this specific scenario, if it is the first thing you're writing, your reader getting a first impression of the characters is important.

Rather than just describing 'some switches' and 'instrument lights', you could describe them in a way that one of your characters is incredibly nervous, possibly about to be sick, and he is obsessively checking the switches and lights. This is then already establishing that particular character as a nervous person.

However, it seems like an action-packed scene (they are, after all, about to launch in a space shuttle). You don't want to keep halting the pace of the action to describe things in detail, or start talking about a character whilst things are happening around them.

Therefore I would choose 1 of 2 options:

  • If you want to start in the action, then don't bother with specific descriptions. Focus on the big stuff that is happening, and have the readers immersed in the action until it is over. When things slow down in the story, that's when more thorough descriptions are useful. Most people will have an idea of what a space shuttle will look like inside, and unless yours is different in a way that is important to the story, you don't need a full description.

  • Start the story before the action begins. I'm not entirely sure, but when a shuttle is launching, I feel like there might be a reasonably long period of time where the astronauts are sat in the shuttle not doing much whilst the rocket is being fueled or something. You could start your story at this point, and have the characters develop before the action starts, with a simple conversation to establish who they are. This could then include an in-depth description of where they are, whilst serving a secondary purpose.

The most important thing here is the pacing. You need things to run quickly at parts, and slowly at others. You can't have the entire story at one pace, or the reader will either be overwhelmed or bored. So describing things in detail isn't always bad, but do it at the appropriate time.

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2

Relevant thought on the subject

"The reader wants to work. ...the reader wants to fill in the details. He wants to be invested in the novel and to make his own decisions and reach his own conclusions . You don’t need to write everything. You can leave pieces (of plot, description, dialogue) out. The reader will get in the game. His imagination matters as much as yours." (source)

So my general advice is:

If it isn't intrinsic to the story, cut it ruthlessly.

If the blue lights on the panel don't figure into the narrative later, or aren't an insight into the mood or future of the characters featured, they don't need to be mentioned.

If you are trying to write more detail, don't do it just for the sake of filler. Figure out a way to make it relevant, or to understand the story better in your head so that you can write it in a relevant way. In the article Support and Elaboration the point is made that you aren't adding words for length - you're adding words for understanding and immersion.

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  • 1
    I've actually begun rewriting the scene from this new perspective and it feels MUCH better, and even more character driven as a result. – Nick Bedford May 22 '15 at 1:06

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