Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Down and Dirty: How To Make Your Setting Rock

As a writer, we must face the fact that readers skip descriptions of setting more often than any other part of the book.  Most particularly, they hate reading long passages of boring descriptions of setting.  And yet, we need to describe the setting to ground the reader in the here and now of the story or else we’ll have our characters floating in outer space.

So how can we effectively describe setting that reader will want to read?

In my opinion it has to do with point of view.

Point of view means who tells your story. Most stories have two, sometimes three, points of view, which means the reader is limited to what the character can see and hear. An omniscient point of view is an all seeing, all knowing narrator.

We know from experience that readers respond better to third person narrators than omniscient narrators.  Readers like when a story is filtered through the lens of a particular point of view character. 

Even when setting is being described. 

So be a saavy writer.  When you describe setting, do it with purpose. Use it as a set-up for something else:

Use it to reveal character.

Use it to set mood.

Use it to create conflict.

In Lisa Scottoline’s Dead Ringer, the narrator, Bennie Rossato a third person, limited narrator is an attorney who is tough, cynical, humorous, clever, and a bit brave.  Notice how Ms. Scottoline filters the setting through the eye of the narrator, Bennie. It is all done through word choice:

She wiped sweat from her forehead while she waited, and looked around.  The dappled grass on the riverbank was dotted now with people who’d ditched work early to take advantage of the unseasonable warm stretch of weather. Cyclists in baby hats with turned up brims biked on the asphalt paths  . . . Lovers smooched on bedspreads, and students tossed cloth Frisbees to mutts in bandannas.

When you describe setting, make sure that what you tell your reader is key to the story.  Make sure that the descriptions would only come from the point of view character. 

Down and Dirty, Step #8, Avoid Describing Your Setting from an Omniscient Point of View.

Next Month:  Down and Dirty, Step #9 Using a Calendar to Keep Track of Your Setting.

Reader reviews: 4.8 stars


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