Writing a night or low lighting scene

So I was recently writing a scene that took place in a darkened street. A battle ensues and a chase. There is a lot of hiding out and sneaking down alleys. The fact that this takes place in a world without street lamps only makes the writing more difficult as I focus on what my characters would be able to see.

When writing a scene in the day time, it is easy to talk about the color of clothes or hair on someone that your character sees. They will be able to describe the flash of light as the sun reflects off the sword blade or the way the water sloshed in the bucket.

skating uid 1462866But when you are writing a scene in low light – whether it be at outside at night or just in a darkened room – you need to take into account what can actually be seen.

I remember writing an assignment for a writing class. I had a thief sneaking into a room filled with bottles. The only light was the moonlight coming in from the large front window. In my description of the room, I wrote about the glistening of the liquid in the bottles.

The instructor and a couple of peers in the class noted that the liquid shouldn’t glisten in that little amount of light. And they were right. So I reworded the passage.

As I am working on my current scene, I have often paused to consider what my character can and cannot see in the dark. A dark figure is something he can see but I won’t be commenting on any facial features as they are hidden in the dark. If there were street lights, maybe we could see his face but in this world, that isn’t happening. All I have is the moonlight.

This focus on details is a concern all authors can face because all of us – mystery writers, romance authors, writers of thrillers – can have a scene out in the night or even in the low light. And as with all of your writing, you want to make it believable. You don’t want to jar the reader out of your story by showing something that couldn’t possibly happen.

So how do you avoid this? The first step is to be aware that writing a night scene or one in low light that what you might normally describe – grimaces on faces, color of eyes or shirts – will not happen.

To make your descriptions more accurate, I suggest you visit a similar area to the scene you are writing. If you are writing a scene between two lovers, grab someone and stand in a darkened room to see how much of the other person you can see. If you are writing a fight scene in a dimly lit bar, visit one. (But I don’t suggest you start a fight to complete your research.)

In my case, there are no street around here that aren’t affected by lights from buildings or street lights. But still a nighttime visit to my backyard (or the countryside) can at least give me an idea of what my characters will be able to see. That additional realism may not be one your reader notes but not having it could easily pull them out of the story with your impossible scenario.

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