Adding Visual Impact to Your Story – Part 1: Letting your scenes tell your story

As authors, we’re all taught to develop our story primarily through our characters. We’re taught to paint detailed descriptions of our characters, use conflict, flashbacks and other methods to let the reader form images. Images of our protagonist, our antagonist, our hero, their lover and our stories supporting cast.

But what about other story elements? Our settings? Our scenes? Dialogue? Character actions? Aren’t they just as important to building your story as describing your characters? Isn’t where they go, what they eat, what they see, hear, and smell important too?

As a mater of fact, does telling your reader that your hero has brown eyes really say anything about them? Do we really care if their hair is blond, red, brown or black?

Painting a picture

What if we say it’s blond with streaks of blue on one side and a faded patch of orange on the other? Doesn’t that immediately form a picture of someone young, a bit wild and daring?

My point being that you can subtly paint a picture by adding visual impact to each element of your story. And that, will be the subject for this blog series.

Letting your scenes tell your story

In the first of this series we’ll look at painting a picture with your scenes and settings. Actually, not only the scene or setting, but also the locations you choose to place them in.

Aren’t these just as important to building your story as your characters? Isn’t where they go, what they eat, what they see, hear, and smell important too? The picture you paint in any scene must contain at least some of these images to be complete; to draw the reader into your scene and make them feel as if they’re part of it.

Many of us refer to this as “Show don’t tell”. Uh, yes! Of course! How simple! But, is it?


Let’s give it a shot. Write a quick scene of someone walking on the street above.

Okay. Time’s up. Let’s see how you did.

First, did you tell us where they are? In New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, San Diego?

Did you describe what they saw? What they passed?

What did they smell?

Did they stop and buy something? What was it? What did it smell and taste like?

How about the woman pushing the stroller? Is the baby crying?

Using the five senses

If it’s not clear yet, we’re asking you to put yourself into your characters’ shoes. For you to describe the scene using their five senses. What they:

  • Saw
  • Touched
  • Tasted
  • Heard
  • Smelled

Also, what emotions, if any, each invoked. What about when they saw their destination, the book store? Did they smile? Chuckle? Did the smell of books fill their nostrils?

If you’ve included all or most of the above types of descriptions in you example, you’ve painted a complete picture for your reader. Not only of the scene but of your character too!

After all, aren’t we all best described by our inner feelings? By how we react to what we see, smell, hear, touch and taste? By the memories and emotions each conjures up, or doesn’t?

Finally, don’t forget the sixth sense, intuition. Intuition not only influences, it interprets what our senses are telling us. It translates their meaning into our unique world.

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