There’s something that I struggle with when I write that annoy both me and my crit partners.

I leave the reader in a haze.

Actions are taking place, but sometimes I don’t ground them correctly. So instead of going where it’s supposed to (i.e. where I want it to be), my reader’s imagination goes in another direction. The imagination fills in the gaps that I leave.

Not necessarily a bad thing. It’s one way to draw the reader into the story. On the other hand, if the progression of my writing leads to the reader having to erase the filling he/she had created to fill it with what I’ve written, there’s a problem. That re-evaluation is enough to yank anyone out of the story.

Does this mean that everything has to be written before the main action takes place? No. For one thing, the reader might just skip over the block of description.

Instead, it’s necessary to make sure that the information is available to the reader by the time it’s needed. For example:

My heart raced as I ran. Behind me, a gunman struggled to catch up. A curse and a dull thud signalled the man’s fall. I grabbed the opportunity sped up before hiding behind a tree.

Now these short sentences look fine on their own, but if they were a start of a chapter or story, there might be a problem. The tree. Firstly, the tree seems to have jumped up from nowhere. Also… I’m guessing that you’re imagining a single tree.

If later on it turns out to be a tree the MC picked out in a forest, the reader will have a hey wait! moment. That’s the last thing you as writer will want.

Same thing with the gunman’s fall. Why? Did he trip? Because most people would assume that one tree will imply even ground for some distance.

So, to make less of a problem:

The forest loomed ahead as I ran. My heart raced my feet to the massive oak in the center. If I could lose the gunman behind me, the oak would be my safe haven. I flicked my eyes down as the forest’s shadows greeted me. My eyes roved the ground for holes and bumps as I sped up. Sure, the forest was where I could hide, but it was also where the gunman could kill me if he could take a shot. I ducked to the right, sensing, more than seeing a hole splintering in a nearby pine tree. Then two sweet sounds reached my ear: a curse and a dull thud. The idiot should have kept his focus on his feet. My lungs burned as I sped up to put more distance between us. When I squeezed into my oaken sanctuary, the buzz in my ears was the only thing I could hear….

In the above paragraph, the forest exists in the reader’s mind before the necessity of the oak is known. The need to focus on the ground is known before the gunman falls. Now the reader can work out he tripped and when the MC makes it to the oak, it’s easy to understand why hiding in the tree would make sense, because how will the Gunman pick out where the MC is hiding? As supposed to one tree in a seemingly flat landscape.

The paragraph makes more sense in this:

than this:

So it’s your job as writer to make sure that if something happens in photo one, it has to be made clear from the start. Otherwise it might look as if it happens in photo two and readers will find it strange when something happens to imply otherwise.

How do you make sure that your scenes are grounded?

22 thoughts on “Grounded

  1. I'm pretty good grounding readers, but I constantly mix up the order of events. I don't know if it's because I have a very non-linear way of plotting and thinking. But there's almost always a sentence that's out of order. It's my signature move.

  2. Great post Misha! I find myself doing the same sometimes, and I always have to go back and rewrite the scene.

    I get a picture in my head what I want the scene to look like, and I constantly have to put it in the eyes of the reader. 🙂

  3. Your examples were great.

    Grounding is a huge issue for me. I always have to remind myself that the reader can't “see” the scene that I'm seeing in my head. It makes me sooo thankful for beta readers!!

  4. When weaving a scene together, I always go back to previous scenes to make sure I'm leading the reader down the correct rabbit trail! I've found that, especially in writing a series, everything has to fit together flawlessly. A writer can't simply throw a tree in (to borrow your example) without giving the reader a darn good reason for that tree to be there.

    Great post and thanks!

  5. Looking at that first picture was a fabulous way to start my morning. As for grounding? I dunno. I'm paranoid now about my book and if I do this.

    You and your sneaky editing questions keep making me want to stop getting the first draft down and rethink scenes.

  6. Yeah, great point. I think I'm guilty of this sometimes too. I'm not always good at getting what's in my head onto the page the way I see it. Takes feedback from others to let me know when I'm doing this, though.

  7. Excellent post!

    I keep my scenes grounded by keeping reality at the forefront. Doing this will result in this, or that. It also helps to think of your scene like a scene. The setting doesn't change as the scene progresses.

  8. I have this problem, too. When I'm writing a first draft, my sentences are a lot like the first in your example. Then, when I'm editing, I have to go back and add context like you did.

    Great post!

  9. I think I'm bad at grounding. At least in my short stories. I'm trying to show, not tell, what my characters are going through and what they're thinking. The actions come out nicely but it tends to cause confusion for the reader. I'm trying to work on it.

  10. I have this problem sometimes–goes hand in hand with not putting in enough description just in general(characters, emotions, ect.). In this streamlining edit I'm in at the moment, I'm adding all the things that I need to make the setting more clear, but it's something I have to remember, rather than something that comes naturally. The only thing is that I tend to over-correct, so now my reader has a tendency to go, “Okay, I get it! Enough! Enough about the forest and the tree!” =P Hopefully all this practice will make my next WIP better grounded(but not too much so) right off! =)

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