Here are some final thoughts on setting that I pulled together from various readings. At the end is a suggested exercise from one of the sources. It's a great way to test yourself. Anyone brave enough to post an exercise here will be rewarded with lots of nice critiques and cyber hugs. No nastiness on this blog. Also, at the end is a link to one of the funniest videos I've seen in a long time. Hope you enjoy it!
Over-describing is tempting because scene description is an opportunity to show off your prose skills through lengthy, elaborate, metaphor-strewn descriptions.
Think of setting as being comparable to a play's set. Most of the time a stage play uses set design to imply the larger setting. The false fronts of buildings, even the elaborate interiors may be realistic, but the audience never mistakes them for real.
Clumping occurs when a writer unloads the entire description at once. The momentum of the scene grinds to a halt while the reader endures paragraph after paragraph of description. To avoid clumping, two things have to happen. First, you have to decide whether all that information is crucial to the scene; does it enhance the scene or are you just showing off? Second, it is usually better to dole out these descriptive details throughout a scene, between more active moments.
So, to avoid clumping, pick the most telling details, find the right place in the scene to give them to the reader, and remember you don't have to give everything at once.
Anytime you see a passage of description that is so poetic and involving that the reader might be tempted to stop to admire the author (you)—cut it. You've just intruded into the story to take a bow, thereby smothering your own creation.
Read through your manuscript once circling all the words that could be stronger. Then go back and take your time replacing them. Do not rely on a thesaurus; many times you'll just be replacing one dull word for a more complex and even duller word.
Setting can be creatively exploited to advance your plot or illustrate a theme of your story.
- As metaphor for the story's theme or the characters' moods and feelings.
- As a plot device.To contribute to the developing story.
- To trigger flashbacks or character introspection.
1. Start a "setting" journal. Begin looking at the world around you with a writer's eye. Make observations about everyday details, such as weather, topography, flora and fauna. But also make note of emotional connections, unusual metaphors, descriptive phrases, sensory responses, etc--anything and everything you observe and experience can be used in your fiction at some point. Start researching foreign or historical settings of interest to you and note your findings in your journal. Keep track of resources such as reference books, articles, websites, etc. for additional follow-up. If your setting research sparks any story or character ideas, be sure to note those as well.
2. From memory, write a descriptive paragraph of a room in your house (or at work, or someone else's house). Once you've finished, take your paragraph to that room and read it, comparing your description with what you see. What changes would you make?
3. Every room has a personality, every room gives off some sort of emotional intensity. A living room may be sterile and make a visitor feel unwelcome. A bedroom might be excessively frilly and make a visitor feel smothered. With that in mind, go to any room in your house. Just as if that room were a character, select the one object in that room that best conveys the room's personality. Describe that object in such a way that the reader feels the emotional effect of that room.
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