Captain Kerk got up from his seat and headed out to the bridge. Kerk looked at the viewscreen where the ship was in orbit around planet Sigma Iotis. Kerk smiled, looking at the lush Class M landscape below. Kerk was hoping that it would be the perfect spot for shore leave. “Let’s prepare an away team!” Kerk said.
The paragraph above shows a common issue that all writers struggle with, and that’s stagnancy in sentence structure. Many writers worry that their writing will boil down to a narrative of “My character said this, my character did that. My character went there and then my character did this other thing.” One of the reasons that this issue is a common struggle is because it is a fully functional way of writing, especially when you are focused on only one character’s point of view like we commonly do in our simming.
Because this is such a useful and functional form both for actions and dialogues, we can’t just get rid of it. No one wants to read paragraph after paragraph of needlessly complicated prose when the same thing could be said by writing “Captain Kerk was the first one to beam down.” So how can we keep the majority of writing straightforward while not feeling like every sentence is just a laundry list of things a character did, felt or said?
- Think about what is around the character. What is the setting they are in? Who is around them and what are they doing? Adding in some description not only helps add variety to your writing, but it helps create a clearer picture of the whole scene for your readers. In the above example you might focus on the setting of the planet Kerk has just arrived on: “Sunlight spilled through thick palm fronds on a white sand beach making Captain Kerk glad that he was the first person to beam down and experience this.”
- Focus on reasons why characters do actions, not just the actions. In the example above, if you put a reason why Kerk would be the first to beam down you might write “It was the job of a commanding officer to take lead, that’s why Captain Kerk always beamed down first.” This still describes the action, but gives us a little more insight into Kerk’s mindset.
- Picture the character in action and describe that action. This technique helps bring the scene action to life in a very descriptive way. Again, with the above example this might look like “Running ahead with a bouncing excited step, the rest of the senior staff held back to let Captain Kerk beam down first.” This is particularly good for scenes where characters are engaged in combat or a similar sort of dramatic action.
- Bring a ‘tight focus’ into the character and describe how they physically feel in a way that relates to the action or setting. Examples of this are feeling heat rise in the character’s cheeks from embarrassment or describing difficulty breathing from a alien poison. This puts the character front and center under a microscope, letting the audience know their inner workings before describing their actions. Working with the above example, you might get: “His heart was beating faster and faster, brimming with excitement – it had been too long since their last shore leave and Captain Kerk was absolutely itching to beam down first”
- Don’t sweat it. After all is said and done, straightforward statements are fast easy ways to cover ‘down time’ or explain simple things that don’t really matter to the meat of the story. Beaming down to a planet might be a big deal for a character – or it might be something totally boring for that character and writing “Kerk beamed down first.” is an easy way to move into action that Kerk and his writer are really invested in.
Hopefully this will help you consider new ways to describe scenes and actions, while also reminding everyone that sometimes just writing things out in a straightforward way to move the plot forward is the best way to go.