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Scenes, Descriptions and POV

One of the "perks" to getting the rights back to a previously published book, especially one you wrote years ago—and ever more especially, your very first published book—is that you can make changes. I've already talked—at length—about updating the book to make it more current. But what about just making a better book?

So, as I await getting the rights back to my first book, I'm working on improving it. I've gone back and looked at some early drafts, and parts I cut before submitting. The first draft of the book was 143,000 words long. The published version: just under 90,000. So there were a LOT of cuts.

I went back to some very early drafts. One scene showed my hero and heroine in a restaurant. In my efforts to paint clear pictures for readers, I'd spent several paragraphs on the waiter coming to the table, taking orders, and the usual "mundane" stuff that accompanies eating out.

I was tempted to include some of that scene. After all, aren't we supposed to include descriptions, involve the senses, and make things realistic for the reader? And I thought I'd done a halfway decent job, trying to Show, not Tell.

This was what I had (and I've not edited it at all—it's here for content only; this was written in 2003, so be kind with your thoughts.)

A young blonde waiter stepped to their table, lit the standard restaurant candle-in-a-jar and asked to take their drink orders.

Randy raised his eyebrow at Sarah.

"I'll have a glass of your house white, please," she said to the waiter.

"Club soda for me," Randy said.

The youth plopped a menu in front of each of them and walked away.

"Guess the new trainees work the slow nights," Sarah said. "I haven't been here in a couple of months. Do you know what's good?"

"Me? No, I don't think I've been here in a long time, either." He picked up his menu.

Sarah perused the offerings and closed her menu. "I'll try the salmon. They're supposed to do seafood very well here. I hope there's not a trainee in the kitchen, too."

Randy rewarded her with a small smile. "I'm going to stay away from fish. I'll have chicken tarragon."

The waiter returned with their drinks and they placed their food orders. "Thank you," he said as he picked up their menus.

"I can't understand why anyone would get his tongue pierced," Sarah said after he'd left.

Randy shook his head. "Neither can I."

Now, it's not humiliatingly awful, and with a little tweaking, could probably be slipped back into the scene. Except for one detail.

POV! No, I don't mean I've head-hopped. The scene is in Sarah's POV, and we're in her head. Or are we? What's not on the page is the setup—Randy has just been through a very emotional experience, and Sarah's been trying to help him through it. On top of that, she's dealing with business crises at her shop, and Randy is the officer on her case. In other words, they're both dealing with problems, and are emotionally distraught.

This is probably not a time they'd be noticing restaurant details, especially since there's nothing "non-restaurant-experience" going on. (I think in an even earlier draft, I'd spent more time with the wait staff—showed them being greeted, led to their table, had someone fill the water glasses, tell them, "Your server will be right with you," and described everyone in what for me is considerable detail, down to tats and piercings as well as hair and eye color. Not to mention filling in all the time where the waiter returns with drinks and takes their food orders, etc.) You get the picture.

It was unnecessary to show them entering the restaurant, Randy checking out the basketball game on the TV above the bar, making a point of wanting a booth in the back, etc., etc. Description has to be true to the character AND to the specifics of the scene. Randy is a cop—normally, he's very observant. But, 1) the scene is in Sarah's POV, and 2) given their emotional states, neither would be noticing all these little details.

Now, if you're writing shallow POV, then it's a different matter to step back and show lots of details. But I don't. To me, that's distancing. And, especially in an emotional scene, I want to be down deep inside the characters' heads. Needless to say, I didn't go back and flesh out the scene as it was published. I left it alone. There's enough "show" without going into too much detail. At least I think so.

A bored-looking waiter hovered by the table. "Getcha something to drink?"

"A glass of white wine for me," Sarah said. She looked up at Randy, who was staring at the table.

"Club soda," he said without raising his eyes.

"Gotcha. Be right back," the waiter said. He plopped two menus on the table and shuffled away.

Randy buried himself behind his menu, and Sarah studied hers without speaking.

I'll continue with more about descriptions and POV on Wednesday. Make sure you come back.