How I Paint the Scene in a Story

stoyrteller kelly swanson

How To Make A Story Powerful By Creating A Vivid Scene

The power of a story lies in your ability to take your listener into the story – to show instead of tell.

There is no question that the key to a compelling story is in the details you choose. It almost doesn’t matter what details you pick, as long as you take the time to paint a vivid picture.

The story becomes even more flavorful when you choose details that aren’t as obvious or predictable, and when you choose details that evoke an emotion or a memory.

Another way to bring the scene to life, is by inserting your own emotion or memory, as the one taking in the scene. The vivid description can be in your own interpretation of the scene you are standing in.

Today I’m working on a story that is set at a small town parade. So I went looking for a few details that would paint the picture in a compelling way, but without taking a lot of time. I try to channel my inner Norman Rockwell. His paintings have always symbolized the town in which all my stories take place. Prides Hollow. Norman Rockwell was able to tell so many stories and bring out so many emotions and memories with one picture. I try to do the same with words, and hope that you see what I see.

I use all my senses when describing a scene. What do I smell? What do I hear? What do I touch? What do I taste? How does this moment make me feel?

Stories become magical when you don’t just tell me a story, you tell me how you are feeling in the moments of your story.

My memory of a small town parade has grown fuzzy over time, so I went on Google and typed in “small town parade images” and just scanned photos of small town parades. This was enough to jog my memory. If you are describing a scene and having trouble, go find an image of that scene to help you pull out the details.

When I’m working on a story or a scene, I don’t start writing, I make a list of bullet points. I don’t worry about how to get into it or out of it, I’m just concerned with describing that detail. Often when I get through, there really is no need to write out the scene of the story, I can just tell the details I have written down.

Here is what I came up with. I only need a few, so narrowing it down will be difficult. I will also change the order of the details so that they are told in the order that I would see them in a parade. Just to make it easier to remember what comes first, and have a little chronological order to the details.

  • There’s another old guy in a rusty lawn chair sitting on the curb, waving a tiny flag – his cheek bulging from the tobacco his wife finally stopped nagging him about – wearing a jacket bearing the symbols of his service – which in Prides Hollow will still get you a nod of respect and a never ending chain of requests to hear the story of how he got that scar on his leg.
  • The Queen of Potted Meat, sitting tall in the middle of a carnation adorned float made out of tissue paper and streamers – waving slightly to the crowds with a gently nod of her head, so as not to disrupt the updo that had taken a team of chirping women all morning to spray in place – surrounded by her court of runners up – all wearing badges that would hang forever around their necks as a tribute to the good old days.
  • The smell of fried funnel cakes and cotton candy, mixed in with the fresh hay that lined the flat bed of Hershel’s truck carrying Maybelle – his blue ribbon pig from the state fair – and somehow the smell of manure and cotton candy mixed in just fine.
  • The local politicians with canned smiles, throwing cheap candy out of restored cars – using this opportunity for exposure in a town that knew their daddy and their daddy’s daddy – while mammas bellowed to their children to “get that last piece Junior! Go get it!” with little thought of the danger in ordering their children to dodge tires and marching feet to catch a wayward tootsie roll.
  • The flushed faces of the Boy Scouts with their crooked bandanas and shirts that refused to stay tucked – whose freckles shivered excitedly because they were finally old enough to march, and Lord help us if Nathan’s pocket holds another bull frog like last year, which proved to be the death of a certain group of dainty young cloggers who were not expecting a frog to land on their shoulder in the middle of Foggy Mountain Breakdown. “He’s doing it because he likes you,” whispers a mother who prays her child will not start dating any time soon.
  • The far away steady beat of the drums, belonging to the high school marching band –  the only instrument guaranteed to hit the right note that day. The heartbeat of a small town parade.
  • The little girl dancing in her bare feet just outside her parents’ attention span – twirling in her ballerina skirt and the mismatched sequined tank top that does nothing to stop her from her self-appointed solo – dancing like nobody is watching – which is pretty accurate – in a moment of true unabashed joy that can only come with being five – and slips too quickly away as she wishes to be six.
  • The small town parade. That cherished tradition held on to way past the memory of why it existed. Perhaps because it allowed people to stop what they were doing and go grab a seat at the curb. To smile at a neighbor and check in with a loved one. A moment when time was frozen into a memory of all that was important – right there on that street – wrapped in a fog of spun sugar and manure – a memory that would forever hang as a banner of the good old days.

Can you see it? Yeah. Me too.

Do your scenes need a little more work? Then join us at Story Crafting Camp.

The following two tabs change content below.
Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

Latest posts by Kelly Swanson (see all)