I’ve just returned from a few days in Paris where I’ve been finishing off the first draft of my next novel, Dream Paris.
Did I have to finish the book in Paris? Well, there’s no denying it was an enjoyable experience: walking down the boulevards in the unseasonable autumn sun; stopping at a cafe to drink a Leffe and watch the world go by; taking my time over coffee in a restaurant at the end of a meal…
But was it really necessary to go to Paris? I think so. It gave me the opportunity to take lots of photos to use as reference images. But more importantly, It gave me the opportunity to use my note book. I’ve written about this before (and I’ll mention it again in the future), there’s nothing like capturing a scene live. One of my favourite definitions of a novelist comes from Sol Stein: a novelist is someone who communicates emotion.
I’m not a photographer, I can’t capture the emotion in a scene with a camera, all I can do is to take snapshots. I do like to think that I can capture a scene in words, however, and this has to be done live. You’re capturing your emotional reaction to the scene, or the imagined reaction of your characters. Failing to realise this is a mistake that many beginners make: a simple description of the scene before you is not good writing, no matter how detailed that description, no matter how many fancy words you use.
In a story, the scene you are describing should be there to communicate some emotion: tension, happiness, fear, excitement. You can recreate this emotion at your desk or in the coffee shop, but if you are moved by what you see before you remember, it’s not play of sun on the leaves that you are trying to record, capture those emotions there and then.