Your Next Scene: Right Before Your Eyes?

Posted by: Melissa Crytzer Fry  :  Category: Story Structure

When friends invited me (and hubby) boating on Apache Lake in Roosevelt, Arizona, my No. 1 goal was to kick back and relax. I certainly didn’t set out to write a scene for my novel.

But that’s not what Mother Nature had in mind.

And, let’s face it … a writer is always on the clock, right? Observing … watching … thinking … It’s not like you can turn the writerly instincts off.

So, when our first encounter included a bald eagle eating lunch onshore, I thought little more of it than what a spectacular scene we were witnessing. Okay, I’m downplaying the event… I am a bald eagle fanatic, so I was jazzed. Even more interesting to me were the dozen bystanders – ravens and vultures – waiting patiently for any scraps of the mutilated fish that the “king” might discard. They all knew the pecking order.

You might think this event was where my novel scene developed…
No. Not yet. I believe it was simply the prologue. My scene developed hours later, in the middle of a severe storm with gale force winds.

Just as we were beginning our high-speed getaway to the docks (after we saw fingers of lightning reaching toward the water), I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. A mule deer at the water’s edge.

We slowed down – actually backed up – because instinct told me something wasn’t right. Especially from the way she was kneeling, her butt dipping slightly into the water, a giant cliff above her. When we got closer, she tried to move, and I immediately wished my peripheral vision hadn’t been so keen. Both of her back legs were broken, splayed out in directions they shouldn’t have been.

To say this broke me in two was an understatement. I worried about her the remainder of the day – even after we alerted the Sheriff’s Office and Game & Fish. They assured us they’d send someone out. I hoped they did the humane thing, as the area is filled with coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Not to mention the harsh sun beating down on her.

I was so bothered, yet I just kept trying to reassure myself that this was part of nature. This was part of the circle of life. Which it was. I knew that intellectually, but my heart didn’t want to hear it.

So, as the skies cleared, a scene started to crystallize in my mind.
Was it coincidence that my current work-in-progress deals with life-death themes, and that I’d just witnessed the theme in real life? I can’t be sure.

But I knew I didn’t want the fate of that deer to be in vain – an example of my own warped thinking that, somehow, I could control some part of what I’d witnessed. So, when I got home, I wrote about her, with the emotion still fresh in my mind, and my desire to pay homage to this beautiful creature and its fateful outcome still strong. I realized the best I could do was to write, hoping that she would live on in my fiction.

The Process of Converting “Life” to “Scene”
Because my novel’s setting is Pennsylvania, I obviously had to change a few details. A large lake in western Pennsylvania – natural, not man made like Apache – is still at the center of my scene, and rocky cliffs still pepper my setting. However, crisp autumn leaves line the shores instead of chipped sandstone.

And my observer, who witnesses the same distraught deer, is an eight-year-old child boating with an elderly man who has stepped in as her surrogate granddad.

Portrayed as a flashback, the memory of that day on the lake reveals much about this woman’s fascination with death and her acceptance of it as a part of life. Thematically speaking (and maybe to console myself), this real-life event became a necessity in my novel.

An excerpt follows:
The day was perfect … until I spotted her. She blended in so perfectly with the shoreline and the mix of chocolaty, rust, and marigold leaves that I thought my mind was playing tricks. I asked Mr. Baker to cut the engine, and I pointed toward what I thought I had seen. We had already rounded a bend, though, and could see nothing behind us. Mr. Baker, always in search of new discoveries and always supportive of my endeavors, backed the boat up.

And there she was. A beautiful whitetail along the water’s edge. I knew immediately that something was wrong. Her butt was nearly in the water and her front legs were folded under her, crushed into the bed of sharp rocks. I looked up at the sheer rockface and the ledge above her, then let my eyes trail down to her backside.

I didn’t realize the horrible squeak I made at first.

“What’s wrong? Hope? Are you hurt?” Mr. Baker hadn’t spotted her yet.

I pointed, said nothing. The salty sting hit my young eyes. The deer, startled by our presence, did everything she could to move. But her back legs splayed out in unnatural ninety-degree angles. A thin line of blood trickled through the rocks and down into the water. I looked back up at the ledge. I didn’t know how high it was. But it was taller than Mr. Baker’s two-story farmhouse.

Then I cried. Hard. My shoulders shook, sending water ripples from the boat’s jerky movements into the lake, visible signals of my distress. A message of her distress. She sat, eyes large, unmoving.

“Hope, honey,” Mr. Baker said as he patted my leg. He stopped, then gave me another hesitant pat. Silence, until finally, “Death is a part of life.”

Future Scenes in the Making
I’m still not sure, but the flash of lightning and the bald eagle experience might also be the makings of future scenes.

What are your thoughts?

  • When you examine the eagle photo above, do you see a scene that could apply to your work?
  • Could you use the power of the eagle as a metaphor?
  • Do the vultures and ravens possess the same characteristics as your villains?
  • Could the scene be a flashback to a youthful memory?
  • How could you adjust my “eagle event” and make it uniquely your own?
  • Does the eagle fly away?
  • Does a raven get too close to the prized possession? What happens then?
  • How would your character react?
  • What does the event reveal about your character?

Final Note
I obviously believe that nature provides us with lessons – and scenes – that we can use in our writing. Tapping into that emotion can be powerful for you and the reader.

My advice: Stay alert. Think. Observe. Dream.

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15 Responses to “Your Next Scene: Right Before Your Eyes?”

  1. claudine Says:

    That was really powerful, Melissa. I am so glad you alerted the proper authorities that might have been able to ease her suffering. You did such a good job of describing the original event, that I know it will haunt me too. Such a good job that I almost wish I hadn’t read it. It was easier to read the fictional account because you were able to move back to the philosophical for me, plus I knew it was fictional.
    I think it does help your writing to apply your very real emotions to a scene.
    I’m finding a hard time saying what my reaction to this is exactly, but maybe just what I began with: It was powerful.

  2. Melissa Says:

    Twitter: CrytzerFry
    Sorry if the content was a little unsettling; but I guess that’s why I felt I had to share it. Plus, as noted, the ‘fictional version of events’ in my novel is really going to explain some things about my MC’s philosophies, mannerisms and actions.

    If I would have included the entire scene, rather than an excerpt, I’m not sure you would have found it an easier read :-(. But, tapping into those raw emotions is exactly what I needed to do. LIke you, I really hope the authorities did what they said they were going to do! Thanks for your comments.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Butterfly Effect =-.

  3. Birgitte Says:

    Twitter: necessarywriter
    Thank you for a great post, Melissa!! It definitely not fun when Nature shows us it’s raw details, but those are the ones that can add just the right touch of poignancy and soul to our writing.

    The opening chapter of my new WIP starts with a grade school kid getting strangled by a meanie in school. That kid was my son. I lifted the scene pretty much verbatim from his life. He survived (of course) but it was traumatic. It’s also made good copy.

    “Truth is stranger than fiction” is a pretty trite adage, so I’ll just say, “Truth makes good fiction.” Which really means that “Life” makes good fiction. Death too.

    Great job converting an experience into something you can use in your novel. :)

  4. Melissa Says:

    Twitter: CrytzerFry
    Oh, Birgitte… I’m so sorry for your son. My nephew has been bullied, and it IS devastating to those fragile egos. But I’m glad you were able to “use” the scene to your advantage.

    I like it: “Life makes good fiction.” Thank you for your comments and allowing me to share my insights.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Butterfly Effect =-.

  5. Lia Keyes Says:

    Twitter: liakeyes
    Melissa, I so relate to the state of being that we live in as writers—that of being “always on the clock”! I’m sorry you had such a traumatic experience, and it’s a measure of your own tender heart that it affected you so deeply. Thank you for sharing how to draw writing power from the natural ebb and flow of life.
    .-= Lia Keyes´s last blog ..Finding Her Wings- editor Emma Dryden talks about drydenbks and the state of the publishing industry =-.

  6. Melissa Says:

    Twitter: CrytzerFry
    Thank you for the kind words. Something else happened today that will add another poignant scene to my WIP… You just never know what ‘raw material’ life will hand you.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Butterfly Effect =-.

  7. Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Mellissa…I agree with you, we can never turn off our writer’s instincts for inspirations. It’s a Writer’s Curse. I am always on the alert for events, scenes, situations and descriptions I can incorporate into my writing.
    .-= Rachna Chhabria´s last blog ..RIP Cliches =-.

  8. Jessica Says:

    Twitter: JMcCannWriter
    I agree with the other comments here, Melissa. This is powerful stuff.

    I’ve read several of your posts on your blog at, too. I love the way you take the lessons you learn from observing nature and relate them to lessons in writing. It’s a unique approach and inspiring on many levels.

  9. Melissa Says:

    Twitter: CrytzerFry
    In the world of curses, I guess this is a pleasant one to have. I found that when I started “looking” at life through a writer’s lens, I started to enjoy it even more.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Butterfly Effect =-.

  10. Melissa Says:

    Twitter: CrytzerFry
    Thank you for your kind comments. I’m glad you’re enjoying my perspective of nature and writing – and how the two really are interconnected.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Butterfly Effect =-.

  11. Victoria Dixon Says:

    Wow, what amazing sights to see on one day. They would definitely wind up in a story someday – they’re too full of meaning and power to neglect them. Funny enough, it’s when I let myself relax into nature and soak it in that I find great insight.
    .-= Victoria Dixon´s last blog ..Cultural Exchange Fund Grant and Other Markets =-.

  12. Melissa Says:

    Twitter: CrytzerFry
    Thanks for the comment, Victoria. I love to hear how nature inspires other writers. There IS something magical about it!
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..The Adaptive Katydid =-.

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