Adding scenery to a scene

Sometimes  writers are strange bunch. But if being strange helps get the story written, then I can live with it.

The other day, I was writing a scene and looking to add some physical description. Thankfully, I have a very useful primary source I can draw on. Lewis and Clark wrote detailed descriptions of the locations they camped at. One of their last campsites before settling down for the winter was at Tongue Point. Clark’s journal mentioned that the river had astonishingly beautiful little stones there.

The Shore on the Side next the Sea is Covered with butifull pebble of various Colour …” [Clark, November 29, 1805]

When I read these words, I thought that was an odd thing to mention. A website quoted Moulton saying these were probably quartz and cherts, but to me, rocks are just rocks and who cares about that? Still, I wondered about it. Those words were written by a man who had travelled thousands of miles over the course of several months to get to that point. He must have looked at a whole lot of rocks in the course of his travels. Why did he notice these in particular?

And then came one of those moments that sound really strange if you’re not a writer. I could hear my character’s voice, in my head, saying “But look at these!” And he scooped up a bunch of pebbles from the river and held them out.

He opened his hand. On his palm were a collection of pebbles that glittered like jewels, a translucent milky stone flecked with gold, rose quartz, topaz agates, carnelian and moss-green stones, glistening with water and sparkling in the sunlight.

Sometimes, it can really help your writing if you have tangible objects to look at and to hold. And while I have always considered a bunch of rocks to be pretty boring, they seemed important to my hero. I wrote a rough draft of the scene and then went off to the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals to look at rocks. I had to try to find out why my hero was so convinced they were beautiful. I think I can understand him a bit better now.


So yes, I just brought a bunch of rocks home because I wanted to understand my hero. It sounds crazy. But it helped me write the scene.

Have you ever done something odd to help get a scene written? I can’t be the only one who finds it helpful to have tangible objects. Probably it’s just as well I don’t write about billionaires with fancy cars and luxurious mansions!

3 thoughts on “Adding scenery to a scene

  1. Judith Ashley says:

    Had to laugh, Evelyn. I instantly got the butiful pebbles piece. I’ve rocks all over the place in my home and in my yard. Put me in a rock shop and I spend money. Clothing store? Only when what I own is falling apart at the seams.

    However, when I was writing the third book in my series, the heroine uses The Tarot to help her make life altering decisions. I bought a Tarot deck and used it on the days I was writing those scenes. Couldn’t have written the book without a deck.

    • Evelyn Hill says:

      Hi Judith! I admit, even someone like me found the Rice museum fascinating and the gift shop is dangerous to my wallet.
      I’m glad to know I’m not the only writer who uses physical objects 🙂

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