So I’m revising a story, and my process is a little messy. But now that I understand it better, I trust it more. So far, the writing process looks like this…
- Start wherever (like with a writing prompt). Write a bunch of shit that doesn’t make sense. Let the story meander anywhere it feels like. Let the characters act out their schizophrenic, multiple personalities until we get to know each other better and they develop some consistency. Finish the story even though it sucks.
- Take the mess and figure out what the core is really about. Is there an arc? A kernel of a plot? Did the characters develop into anything usable (or reflect any MBTI type)?
- Structure the mess into a semblance of a plot. Identify parts of the story that could fit the standard plot structure (i.e.: inciting incident, doorways one and two, midpoint, climax, etc).
- Rewrite the entire story a scene at a time using MBTI functions to determine how exactly each character pursues their goals and responds to circumstances. Include details of body language, setting, sensory information.
- Next ??? (I’m not quite there yet.)
Right now I’m on step four. And one tool has made this step—writing each scene—almost too easy. And I don’t remember if I picked it up somewhere or figured it out. Either way, this is it…
Find a photo of your story scene’s setting. Keep the photo open to view as you write your scene.
It seems almost too easy for how powerful a tool this is for writers, right? So first I’ll tell you why it’s useful. Then I’ll tell you where to find good photos for your story settings once you’re convinced.
3 Powerful Ways A Photo of Your Setting Will Bring Your Story Scene To Life
#1 You’ll See Your Character’s Body Language in Response to Their Environment
It’s easier to imagine your character’s body language if you can imagine them in a specific setting.
In my current WIP, a teenage girl approaches my adult male protagonist in a bar. Because I know the setting details, I know that she’ll have to move a heavy chair across the floor to sit next to him. And because I know that the character is the type not to notice people when she’s on a mission, I know that she’ll drag the chair across the floor and make a lot of noise and that everyone in the bar will stare at them.
These details materialize because I see the setting and I know how my characters would respond to it based on their personalities and goals. Suddenly I’m just keeping up with typing out the images as they play like a movie.
#2 You’ll Intuit The Sensory Details Your Characters Experience in Their Setting
The long tables in my setting inspiration photo are made of unfinished wood. So when my protagonist rests his arm next to his drink, I know the wood is rough and warm.
The blue and gold decor in this setting inspiration photo has a calming effect. That must be why my protagonist decided to grab a drink here before his speech. And the light fixtures sit low enough that they’d emit heat against my protagonist’s forehead.
Sensory details like these are easy to intuit when you have your setting photo open. The setting details are already in place, so you just have to imagine what it would feel like to move around in the photo’s setting. Easy, right?
That’s a huge win for writers who know that it’s sensory details that bring a story to life.
#3 Your Setting Details Will Be Consistent throughout The Scene
Don’t you hate it when you forget what you said a setting or a character looked like from one sentence to the next?
I’ve read story drafts where the character has her hair in a ponytail in one sentence and a bun in the next. Not because she redid her hair but because the writer forgot what she wrote. (Okay, that was totally my story that did that.)
That’s fine for a first draft. But revisions need a little more care and consistency. And having your setting hammered out from the start will keep your characters planted firmly in a single, realistic environment. You won’t have to remember what your setting looks like because you can see it in the photo.
Now that you see how powerful setting inspiration photos can be, here are a few ideas on where to find them.
Where to Find Setting Photos
My favorite place to find setting photos is Pinterest. I make boards for each setting I’m writing (most of them are secret boards) because I can pin furniture, materials, wall colors, etc.
Join The Writer’s Sandbox, a group board for writers on Pinterest.
You could also pull setting ideas from stock photos. Furniture ideas from store catalogues and websites (Ikea, anyone?). And write a scene that takes place in a restaurant while dining in your favorite restaurant (who says the perfect scene setting has to come from a photo?).
More Ideas for Perfect Settings?
Have an idea for settings that I missed? Share it in the comments. Your idea could help a fellow writer finally break through a difficult scene.
Dave Morehouse says
This is excellent information, Mandy. I like the concept of using visual sense to drive our writing. Well done. Dave
Mandy Wallace says
Good to hear from you, Dave.
It’s interesting the way you put this—using visual sense to drive writing—because I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. It makes me realize that I’ve written before on using the senses to drive writing when I talked about using a specific movie music tool to inspire scenes and get into the writing mood.
This setting photo strategy has been more powerful for me though. But that makes sense. Humans tend to be more visual.
Yes, absolutely! It helps so much – and it’s fun! I’ve totally done the ponytail to bun thing.
Mandy Wallace says
Well then I won’t feel so bad about it, Athena 🙂 Not that I worry about it so much anymore when it’s a first draft. Still, wouldn’t it be great if the story came out perfectly the first time through? And also if hot fudge sundaes didn’t have any calories? But mostly the writing thing.
Hi. Am enjoying your blog – and finding it a great way to procrastinate anbout writing rather than actually writing ;-/ and yes i did find the blog via pininterest…. However I’m posting in to say I have found a series about decorating incorporating Myers-Briggs personality profiles (see Mrs Fancee’s decorating for one of the 16 types). For me its been a useful start point for visualising a character in their own space- and also for indicating what day-to-day niggles there mnight be between two different M-B types living together!
Mandy Wallace says
Thanks for this resource, Helyn. I think it’s a follow up to a different blog post on this site (The Character Most Writers Get Wrong And How to Fix It) though. And I’ve updated the broken link so readers can find the resource.
Hi – This is a great idea, writing scenes is something I’m struggling with today (sorry for posting on an old post! but it’s relevant to me right now). I find that, since it’s been a while since I started this whole thing, that I forget details and can’t quite ‘descend’ into that initial mindset. Everything is so technical now, that the words don’t flow — pictures might just help! It’s worth a try anyway. 🙂
Mandy Wallace says
Pictures help me SO MUCH when I’m sitting clueless with my WIP. I hate those moments of floundering. Getting a visual brings me back into storytelling mode. Hope it helps you too. And thanks for stopping by, Amanda.
I’ve found pictures for character inspiration, and general worldbuilding, but never thought to find anything as specific as for a scene. A bar’s a bar even if it’s in a fantasy world!