What do I do when I flesh out a scene? I try to imagine that scene in as much detail as possible, filling out empty or undefined spaces in my mind.
Sometimes, however, I hit a snag. I come up with a new detail that is making the scene richer, but it also creates a new problem.
Here's an example from my novel Rooster. In an early draft, I have my protagonist coming straight into his kitchen where he is about to find out that his brother has been murdered:
Bao is surprised to find his wife waiting for him in the kitchen when he arrives home from work.
This entry into the scene gets the job done, but as I was reading the book through, I felt like it was too sudden, given what had happened in the previous chapter.
I decided to back up a little, so that the reader gets to meet Bao at work, shortly before he comes home. This was where the new problem appeared:
Burbank, California--A thief is suspected at Behrin Metals, a gray factory building whose only adornments are rows of gloomy tinted windows. During the lunch break, several workers discover food missing from their coolers. Bao himself loses two days' worth of meals...
At first I thought this was quite clever. Without being boring, I was able to describe my protagonist's place of work, and part of his normal life before the conflict--the news of his brother's death--arrives. I kept it short, only two paragraphs, before I had Bao go home where he received the bad news.
But, the question that nagged at me was, "What about the thief?" Of course I had no idea what happened to the thief. He or she was really just a device to get information across. In my attempt to be creative, I had introduced a detail that led to more questions. I fleshed out in a way that made the story less focused.
I corrected the problem by still having Bao at work, but having him face a much more mundane problem.
Burbank, California--There is a backup at the bending station of Behrin Metals, Incorporated. The workers are losing traction under their boots because of some slippery rubber mats the new Assistant Lead ordered at discount.
I felt like this still had some interest in it without being interesting enough so as to lead the story in a new direction. I fleshed out the scene while still keeping it focused on the main conflict at hand.
So, if you're like me, and you end up having to flesh out areas of your stories, ask yourself if the new details you're creating are leading the reader down a wrong path. Sometimes a new detail or tidbit creates more questions than it does answers.
Have you had to flesh out a scene? How did you choose the details you used?
(Note added later: Check out Jeannie's comment for some great advice!)