Our first lesson in my writing class is focused on setting. It deals with setting in relation to the general mood of the story, to the plot, and to the theme.
There is also an emphasis on description and how much is too much. They talk about the 2 most common mistakes: over-describing and clumping. Over-describing is basically using too many adjectives, characteristics or metaphors to describe something. It’s like saying when the large, corpulent, double-chinned, behemoth soprano warbles the melodic operatic aria instead of saying when the fat lady sings. Too many of the first type of description can slow down the story.
Clumping is giving the whole description at once – not leaving any information for later. It may not be over-describing but it can stop a story. It’s like taking 3 pages to describe an overstuffed leather sofa by describing where and how it was manufactured, shipped, sold and transported to the site – all in great detail instead of just saying there’s an overstuffed leather sofa in the room.
(Please note that I’m paraphrasing here. This is by no means a complete synopsis of the class. If you want that you need to pay the money and take it yourself.)
We had to read 2 ½ chapters in our book, the online lecture and then complete the assignment which is: write a scene where setting is predominant. There are 14 of us in the class and our work is posted for all of us to see and comment. It’s really interesting to read and now we all await our instructor’s comments on our work. Here is my submission:
“Damn,” she thought, “first one here again. I need to stop being so punctual.”
The wide stone steps, rounded by the thousands of feet scurrying up and down them for the last 150 years, led her into the beautiful old brick building. The fading sunset glowed against the windows casting mischievous shadows inside.
Anne shivered as she unlocked the door. Even after 40 years of attending events here, the darkened interior still gave her the creeps. She was familiar with every inch of the upper two stories and the basement but being alone made her uneasy. As she flipped on the lights, the old place warmed to her presence.
The center was one of the largest buildings in town. Once used exclusively for Masonic groups, due to rising costs it was now rented out to others for meetings and functions. It hadn’t lost its sense of purpose and the rich dark woods and thick brocade curtains created a sense of formality
She turned on the lights in the main floor dining hall and was pleased to see the tables already set with festive decorations for the pre-meeting meal. Red plastic cloths held white dishes and large pink, red and white Styrofoam hearts danced on a sea of curly ribbon in the middle of each table. Crepe paper ribbons and balloons adorned the walls and a sign saying “Happy VD” was taped over the podium. Anne laughed and made a mental note to have the sign changed before some of the older members arrived.
Overhead she heard a floorboard creak. Thinking it odd, she went to the bottom of the stairs and called, “Who’s there? Is someone up there?” There was no response but the big front door opened and Anne was relieved to see Helen and Jean enter.
“Which one of you is responsible for the sign?” she said.
Helen blushed and Jean looked innocently up at the ceiling. “Well whoever did it needs to change it before the rest of the group arrives.”
“You don’t like it?” Helen said.
“I love it, but something tells me a few of our members won’t appreciate your sense of humor.”
The floorboard creaked overhead again and all three women looked at the ceiling.
“Is someone here with you?” said Jean.
“No. I heard that same noise just before you came in, but no one answered when I called. Maybe we should go upstairs and check it out.”
“Not on your life,” said Jean. “The men will be here soon. They can go up there.”
“Don’t be such a sissy,” said Helen. “Let’s go see what’s going on. It’s probably just the old building making noises anyway.”
“Well, you two can go, but I’m staying here,” said Jean.
Anne and Helen started towards the wide old stairs covered with the worn burgundy runners. As they started to ascend, Helen sat down on the third step and said, “Maybe we should wait.”
So, what do you think? Can you visualize this setting? Did I over-describe or clump? Any feedback is welcome.