Monday, November 15, 2010

It's in the Details

In her post Old Man River, Sandy Cody says,
In every book I can think of that I truly love, setting is as much a character as any of the people.

I agree with Sandy, and I started thinking about setting, the physical surroundings in which action takes place. About how writers set the physical scene. The general guideline we hear from our more experienced colleagues is not to fill up pages of description, but to capture the essence of the physical surroundings by using details. Well-chosen, specific, and vibrant details.

So here's a little exercise to get those detail-oriented juices flowing. Take any scene you're writing. Really. Any scene. Think about the setting and write down five physical details, one for each sense--taste, sight, touch, sound and smell. Create a phrase (no more than a brief sentence) for each of those details to vividly portray the surroundings. Now as characters enter the scene, within the first 250 words, incorporate those five physical details into your story, remembering that the setting will be sensed through your point-of-view character.

How did that work? Did those details perk up the scene? Did the interweave of action and surroundings spawn more ideas about what would be the very best details to include in your list of five?

Use all the senses; choose your details; watch your scene shimmer on the page.

No more talking heads for us! We know exactly where these people are.

Happy Settings!


Sandy Cody said...

Wow, LaVerne, I'm flattered that you dug up my old post.

Thanks, also, for the very helpful exercise. I'm sure I'll come back to that whenever I need inspiration to add life to a scene.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Interesting post Laverne. It's easy to power along with the dialogue and forget to anchor the characters. I always go back and add 'stage directions' after I've done the scene. Each read through I add more so the setting becomes richer and richer each time. It means by the time I reach the end the book is pretty much complete and doesn't need much in the way of polishing. I enjoy the enriching process :)

Jane Myers Perrine said...

So very important, LaVerne. I need to do this to a description in my WIP!! Thanks.


Beate Boeker said...

Great post, Laverne! I often fail to "root" my characters, too. Of course, I have an exact picture in my mind, but sometimes I forget to pass on that knowledge to the reader. Thank you for that great excercise.