Thursday, July 22, 2010

Setting the Scene

     Let's talk about details today.  Last week we talked about all of the details that make up a complex (fat, actually, but you'd have to read the post not to be offended) character.  Let's talk about your character's world now.

     Setting is complicated.  Not enough details and your reader has no idea if the character is in Hong Kong or Timbuktu (Yes, I know, a token Timbuktu reference.  So sue me.  Actually, don't.  Just go with it, because you know you've pulled a Timbuktu and it probably wasn't the first or last time, either.)  Too many details on the other hand, and your reader is either so focused on the colorful wings of the butterfly sitting on the leaf on the branch of the tree the main character is sitting under that the reader has completely forgotten that there's actually a character demanding attention sitting under that tree (see how those details work to convolute things?) or the reader threw the book at the wall in disgust when the description of the tree hit page three (I didn't mean to rhyme but I'm not changing it.  Subconscious poet, apparently.  The first person to compare my shoe size to Henry Wadsworth's gets it, though), let alone the butterfly on page six.

     Of course, at this point, you could very well be ready to metaphorically throw this blog at the wall.  (I'll pay the person who accomplishes this feat literally fifty dollars.  And that's literally accomplishing the feat, not literally fifty dollars.  We'll get to the pet peeve of using literally incorrectly at a later date.)  Ergo, I digress.

     Setting is a balancing act.  Your characters, and by extension the readers identifying with your characters, need to be grounded in their fictional world.  What is the layout of the house? How is the house decorated?  There doesn't have to be an entire chapter devoted to describing the house, but we need to be comfortable with where the rooms are, how the characters get to those rooms (Stairs?  Elevator?  Jet pack?  X-Wing?  Think it through, each options has huge implications for your story.  For instance, if you choose the X-Wing, Luke Skywalker better show up at some point in this tale of yours.  Also, if you choose the X-Wing, you have a 99% shot at getting me to read it, no questions asked.  Well, almost none.  But enough of my geek-self.) and overall what the general atmosphere of the house is.  Is the furniture cozy and overstuffed, perfect for snuggling?  Or is it a modern environment, with streamlined furniture that shows off artistic tendencies or maybe just a snotty desire to throw money at couches of a purely non-functioning variety (You know the kind I'm talking about.  If you can't nap on it, it does not deserve the name of couch)?  

     Notice that ultimately all of this winds up reflecting back on your character.

     Writing is sneaky that way.

     Everything that you write should reveal a piece of information to the reader.  Now your readers are smart.  That's why they're reading your book.  (You're welcome for that.)  You don't have to spell everything out for them.  A reader can figure out that Carter's childhood home in upper Manhatten isn't exactly welcoming with its cold metal chairs, the bare lights in the high ceilings, empty walls without any family photos, and more servants around than family members, without you telling them in great detail what each element represents.  A reader can figure out from these little clues that Carter didn't have a warm and cuddly family like Elaine did, growing up on a Kentucky farm, with rough, handmade rocking chairs on the wooden porch, massive quilts with crooked stitches sewn by firelight, and cool grass to run through while catching fireflies in the mason jars that hold grandma's sweet peach preserves in the winter.  

    These are the details you want to create your story world with.  We learn where we are, we can visualize it clearly, with enough left to the imagination to keep our minds active and involved painting the picture in our heads, and we learn something about the characters.  Describing your setting doesn't have to be complicated.  Think about what your character sees and how he or she sees it.  Then tell your reader. 

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