brni (brni) wrote,

Writing the Scene

A long, long time ago (I can still remember), I used to play Dungeons & Dragons with friends in high school. And this is one particular incident in which my character became particularly close to death.

I was the thief of the party. We were, surprisingly, in a dungeon, going from room to room, slaying the inhabitants and taking our loot. We come to a door. I listen at the door (I hear nothing). I check for traps (I find none). I pick the lock (it unlocks). I open the door. The DM (Dungeon Master, for those unfamiliar with this game) describes what I see.

DM: You see a large table in the middle of the room, with the recent remains of a coarse meal still there. There are three wooden chairs around the table. Against the wall on the left, you see three large beds. There's a trunk at the foot of each bed. On the right hand wall, there is what looks like an altar, with a stone statue. The head of the statue is made of gold, and the eyes are made of large jewels that appear valuable. [DM rolls a die at this point.] Several of the tiles on the floor directly in front of the statue appear to have a larger than normal gap around them, as if they may be either removable or triggers for a trap.

Brni: Okay, I go into the room. I check out the statue, being careful not to set off the trap.

DM (rolling dice): Okay. Before you can reach the statue, you are hit for... (rolls dice) 13 points of damage.

Brni: What? What hit me?

DM: The ogre.

Brni: You didn't tell me there was an ogre!

DM: You're hit two more times, in the back. For 9 and 27 points.

Brni: What hit me in the back?

DM: The two ogres you walked past heading to the statue.

Brni (bloggling): Were they invisible?

DM: No.

Brni: Well, then, I wouldn't have walked into the room with my sword sheathed if there were three ogres in the way!

DM: Well, that's what you said you did. And besides, you didn't say you were looking to see if there were three ogres.

As a writer, it is your job NOT to be this DM. When you set up a scene, try to describe it in the way your POV character would experience it.

Something like: "The door swings open with a creak. Three large ogres stand poised and ready, with clubs raised - it seems you weren't as quiet as you thought. From the corner of your eye you see a brief flash of something that glints like gold in the torchlight."

These are the things that a homocidal treasure-hunting adventurer might notice: the things that are a direct threat; the potential of something valuable. Everything else is irrelevant. One does not notice or reflect upon the beauty of the idealized form of a rabbit as evident in a particular period of Japanese sculpture while one is being chased through the museum by the reanimated corpses of Ghengis Kahn and his Horde. One notices the distance to the door, and whether or not it is open or closed.

Write only and exactly what matters to your POV character at the time that it matters. Strip out the rest.
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