Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ask the Authors: Thursday

How detailed does a setting have to be to ring true with one’s readers?

It all depends on the type of book you are writing. In some books, setting becomes as important as the main character. It can create color and tone and mood. In other books, setting is little more than a backdrop. How detailed your setting needs to be depends upon its importance to your story. -- Robin Lee Hatcher

Not very, as far as I'm concerned. A lineoleum floor here, a Turkish carpet there. And chairs. Chair styles speak a thousand words. I'm not sure why this is. But if you enjoy design, the chair seems to be the portal. It is important, to know the styles of furniture, I think. (Unless you're writing in first person and your character has no idea!) And precise colors allow you to present the feel, the emotion, of a room in only a couple of words. In any case, unless the characters are in a setting that's not one of their making or using, the setting is a wonderful way to develop character by showing their likes/dislikes, choices and habits. A cluttered room--a spare room, a room with a large bronze of Socrates, or one with a huge pile of board games in the corner. These tell us just as much about the character as they do the room itself. lisa samson

If you’re writing about an actual place, then detail—and accurate detail—is extremely important. Readers are quick to point out errors in a novel set in a place they know and love. That, along with the fact that real-life settings change so quickly, is why I mostly set my books in fictional places. But even a book set in a fictional Kansas town, must be true to Kansas and Kansans. As for detail, for me as a reader, it’s the little things—the curtains in a room, the sounds that make up a place’s “white noise,” the flora and fauna of a region, the scents in the air—that truly bring a setting to life. –Deborah Raney

I think the telling detail, the specific item that brings a setting to life, is crucial. You don't have to lard it on, but it has to smell real. Smell, BTW, is an underused sense in fiction. Use it. Read the first chapter of Bleak House by Dickens for a little course on writing setting and description. The details should do "double duty." Not just describe, but also create the mood or tone or symbolism that deepens your story. - James Scott Bell

There's all kinds of stories. If you're writing an in-depth historical you need a lot of details and facts to ring true. If you're writing a historical setting, then you flavor the story with light details. Same would apply to contemporary stories. Lori Copeland

Readers tend to fill in the blanks for themselves,
especially today's readers. We don't need much to get
the picture. In fact, tell us too much and we're going
to tune out. If you read 19th century and early 20th
century literature, you'll generally notice much more
detail than what authors offer today, and that's
because we no longer have the patience for it. Thomas
Wolfe wouldn't have a prayer in today's market. We're
used to sound bites, ever-changing scenes; we take in
our information in little snippets and that's how we
want it: Just tell me what I need to know and let's
get on with the story. --Ann Tatlock

I don't know that it's about being detailed as much as it's about being accurate. Representing it in such a way that we can taste, see, and smell it. Showing it with skill. That's what you need to focus on. Sometimes that does take a lot of details; other times, all it takes is well chosen, concise words. Karen Ball

As a writer, I want the reader to feel as if she is in that place, seeing what our characters are seeing, but I don't want to bore her with page after page of description. I try to use as few words as possible to portray the setting. --Hannah Alexander

As some of the others have said, it's the telling detail you want to include--the thing that reveals personality and character. And when you're revealing a settting, don't stop to give us a paragraph of description, but show us characters using and/or moving through the objects you want to describe. When describing the unfamiliar, show the object in use. Keep your story active. --Angela Hunt


At 2:36 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

That Thomas Wolfe wouldn't make it in today's market is, in my opinion, a serious problem.


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