I can picture all the side eye I am getting from this post:
"Come on Mel, Setting?? Isn't that the same as World Building?? I see what you are doing..."
Well actually... World Building is creating the world in your mind, Setting is painting a picture of that world through the eyes of your character.
A great Setting enhances the story for your readers. It:
It's pretty dang important. Without Setting your characters just float in the blank, nothingness of plot.
How do we create a great setting? Below are some things that help me:
Use your World Building:
Not familiar with world building? Check out my mistakes (Part 1 and Part 2) before you start - trust me, you don't want to make my mistakes midway through writing your novel.
If you are a world building champion (I hate you), then you are all set to season your story with little bits of delicious setting. Examples:
Don't forget to include your character in these little gems, describe how they feel about these events and possibly use the senses to do so.
Engage the senses:
The senses are a powerful thing, they evoke reader memories and can highlight what is important in a setting. It makes the character seem more real and your setting more vivid.
Now, unless you are writing omniscient, stick to describing what your character can: see, taste, smell, hear, and feel at that given time. This helps ground the readers in the here and now of your story. You can use details that they have seen previously in to create a contrast of time or place, but I would sprinkle it in with a light hand.
But remember that the senses aren't limited to the big five, you can also add in:
Weak, golden sun fluttered through the brick hugged windows. Motes of dust danced in the cold stillness. Empty tables stood to attention around the room's periphery; lonely chairs nestled beneath them. Settling like a blanket over the room, the air was devoid of any mustiness despite being shut up over the summer. As if the sounds and smells had fled the halls once the final bell rang. The clock ticked, perched above a pristine board, marching along even though no one watched it.
I never once mentioned the word school or student, but (I am hoping) you gathered we were in a classroom just before school resumed. I used the sense of touch, sight, smell and hearing (taste would have been weird) in the writing above.
Sometimes writing an original setting is like a game of Taboo, you have to challenge yourself to describe a place without using the shortcut words. But not every setting needs a flowery description - which brings me to my next point.
Be specific and selective with what you include:
Does your reader need a twenty page description of an office that she will visit once? No.
The point of this section is to choose your descriptions wisely. If you want to spend a paragraph describing exactly what that wing back armchair looks like, there had better be a good reason. Someone better make love on it or it better be demon possessed. Otherwise, why are you wasting my time?
Questions to ask yourself:
** If your character is running for their lives, please do not take the time to describe the pot plants beside the desk she is ducking behind. She wouldn't notice it - she'd be too focused on the killer. It pulls the reader out of the story - the reader is wondering why the plant is so important. And it often ruins the pace - if she can stop to notice the plants is she really in danger?
Giving too much information slows the pace of your story, it shifts the focus from the plot and characters to the setting. Sometimes this is good. This can be done beautifully to explore themes around place and landscape, or to capture a mood. Be purposeful with your long winded descriptions, make them mean something - make their lazy behinds work for every letter that you are bestowing upon them.
Below is an example of descriptions that could have conveyed the same idea with much less:
The poulterers shops were still half-open, and the fruiterers were radiant in their glory. There were great, round pot-bellied baskets of chesnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown- faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made in the shop- keepers' benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons...
Yes. I know.
I will wait for the hate mail to roll in.
How DARE I use Charles Dickens as an example of what not to do... the horror!!
But I mean, read it. (Yes. It is beautiful. Yes. It does set the scene - a minor one. Yes. It discusses the idea of Christmas Feasting as well as, creating a juxtaposition to the description of the same event earlier in the novel; which in turn highlights the growth of Scrooge's character. I get it.) When I was a teenager reading this I groaned so much at this scene. Why did I need to read a 40 word description of onions? I didn't. And to this day, I still don't. *shrugs*
And this is the point I am trying to make, did the onions propel the plot? Were they integral to the character's journey or solving a problem? No. So why waste words on things that might make readers skim read or even *gulp* put it in their DNF (Did Not Finish) pile? Today's market, especially if you are in YA, has no room for this overly purple prose. Your reader is being forced to read about something that has no importance, and thus, no place in your novel.
So save all your delicious descriptions for the places that are important or that your character will spend a lot of time in.
Use character interaction:
This one is my favorite. It is like allowing your character to lead your reader through their world. What they notice and interact with says a lot about your character. Every person will react to an environment in a different way, and the same person may react differently to the environment on different days (E.g. revisiting a place from childhood and it seems smaller than they remember). So when your POV (Point of View) changes or even when your character changes, alter the way you describe the world. Focus on different objects, interactions. Describe them in a way that feels authentic to the character.
Using quick, dynamic bits of setting concurrently with character action and dialogue adds depth to both your setting and your characters. YASS!
Say a character walks into a room, in the room their is a toy puppy. Characters can react in a variety of ways:
Using the descriptions of what is in the setting also tells us about the owner of the space:
Set the mood and foreshadow:
Using the weather, the temperature, the landscape or objects within a setting can help instill a the same feeling in our reader that the character is feeling. Have fun with the way you describe the things your character sees - they are not a objective viewer. Your character will never walk into a a room and go: "Oh, a red chair". chances are that they are going to have an opinion of that object based on their preferences, how they are feeling, whether they like the person who owns it or any past experiences with a red chair. Use this to your advantage.
Adjectives and verbs are your best friend. The choices you make with verbs and adverbs changes a somber downpour to refreshing rainstorm, or a ravenous deluge to an unwelcome precipitation, with a few synonyms and an adjective change.
So when describing, add depth to the setting by using words that emphasize the overall feeling your character has.
A mood filled with dread can be evoked in setting by using descriptions like:
The alluding to death, darkness and uncertainty gives the reader feelings of unease, of worry. But, using describing the same setting with different adjectives changes the feeling completely:
Setting can also foreshadow what is to come. Just like choosing the right adjective or verb choosing the right location for the event, or shaping the mood of the location can help readers guess what might happen next - leaving them with feelings of dread or excitement (Ahem - keeping them reading).
Think of it this way, if your sweetheart called you because they wanted to meet up "to talk" which setting would you prefer?
None of the settings would actually influence the outcome of the conversation, the person knows what they want to say, but the setting gives us an idea what the outcome might be. This is a fun literary device to play with, because we can lead a reader to a resolution that they feel is satisfying (they saw it coming) or you can punch them in the throat with an unexpected plot twist (E.g. the character on the cliff is proposed to, the character in the restaurant is dumped).
Be a little ambiguous:
Lastly, leave a little to the imagination. Allow your reader to insert themselves in your world, allow them the space to imagine it how they like. The brain is a fickle little fellow, if it thinks that something looks one way and you tell it otherwise, every time that setting comes up it will protest. It jars against the reader - pulling them out of the setting/story briefly.
Ambiguity is not vague! Be as specific as you can with your word choice when you do describe something, but don't describe everything (E.g. Coffee cup - describe the color, if it is empty, the lipstick mark on it, but then leave out things like the exact location in the room of the table it is on, how much liquid it can hold, how it reminds you of the cup you had that broke - or vice versa). The idea is don't bog your readers down with describing EVERYTHING about the setting and object.
Again this is why choosing what to describe and how to describe it is so important. If in doubt - leave it out.
Thanks for reading this behemoth.
Until next time: make your settings work hard for you.
1. For all those not aware of your awesomeness, what should we know about you?
Haha, awesomeness. I wouldn't say that, but thank you. I guess what I'd love people to know about me is that while writing is very important to me, I am also a wife (11years this month), and a mother to two amazing kiddos. I'm passionate in all that I do, which can be a flaw if things don't go my way.
2. Why do you write?
I write because the alternative of not having the escape that writing brings me is deadly. Writing saved my life. It's curbed the depression and limited the thoughts of just being done with life.
3. What writers inspire you?
I've always been a fan of James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, Robyn Carr, and Debbie Macomber. Which these four have inspired the mixture of the genre that I am currently writing. I also admire indie authors like myself. It's not easy doing it on your own, especially with little support. The real indie authors (yes, I believe there are two types) really inspire me by their compassion for the craft.
4. What does a typical writing session look like?
I have to have a clean home before I can focus on writing. I also MUST have some type of sound going because silence causes anxiety. Currently, I have FRIENDS playing in the background. I'm pretty good at tuning it out to focus on my work. As for how often, whenever the inspiration strikes. I usually use my notepad on my phone, or a notebook I carry around everywhere I go. You never know when the words will flow. I write for long periods of time when the kids are either sleeping or in school. I don't like to stop/start so often, it gets frustrating.
5. What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on Down to Sleep, my debut novel that I am super excited about. Readers can find out what it's about, here... http://ktdaxon.com/book-nook/down-to-sleep/
It is a Romantic Thriller/Mystery/Suspense. It's one of those. It's sad that I don't know WHICH one, but it could likely fall into either category.
6. What do you love about this piece of writing?
What I love about this piece of writing is how much it has evolved since I wrote the first draft. It began as a love story, and I've added drama, suspense, and murder to the mix. I've shaken things up a bit, and the antagonist is someone I've come to love, despite his evil ways.
7. Give us a little sneak peek, what insights can you share about the main character?
I have 2 MC's. Gabby is the original MC. She's the passionate, loving, and sensitive side of me. Landon, he's the antagonist but also a MC. He is sensitive, loving, and passionate too, but he's also a tad bitter and seeks revenge. A broken heart once broken too often can do that to a person.
8. What is the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest thing about writing for me is that I am a perfectionist. I have Writing OCD. I tell myself not to edit as I go, but it's a tick with me. It's made writing this story take forever!
9. What is the most rewarding thing about writing?
I find the most rewarding thing about writing is the journey the story takes you on. It's one that is different from what the reader experiences and it molds you into someone new. Change is scary, but if you allow your writing to take you to new places, you'll learn to embrace the change that's best for you.
10. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself as a new writer?
Don't waste money on college, on a degree that won't fully serve you. I knew midway through my degree that I did NOT want to be a teacher anymore. I wish I would have saved $$ and figured out what I really wanted to do. Now, I'm stuck praying my debut will roll in enough money to cover the student loan debt. Ha! Nah, I don't write for money. I want to take my readers on a new journey, and give them a chance for new discoveries.
This isn't going to be much of a post today. I don't have the brain space to create one of my normal posts. So instead I will remind everyone: take care of yourself. Make time for some self care, to make sure you are mentally and physically healthy.
Being a writer we forget just how much of ourselves we give when we write. We give our time, our mental energy and often our blood, sweat and tears. Because we love writing. And don't get me wrong, I will continue to do so for as long as there are stories in my heart. But not today - this week I need rest.
I need to catch up on reading. Watch some terrible tv and just take care of myself.
When I was a teacher, I put everything I had into being the best for my students. And it swallowed me up. Ipushed harder for better results, for faster correction, I chased excellence. And I burnt out.
I gave so much, without refilling the tank, that one day I just stopped. I couldn't go on. The passion I once had, it had been drained from me. I could no longer remember why I had given up so much sleep, why I had passed on social events or even what I was trying to prove. So now I pay attention to my body. To the signals that I am doing too much. I listen and I obey.
It's been almost two years and I am still not fully over my burn out. So, please don't listen to people who will make you feel guilty for taking a day off. Don't listen to anyone telling you that you'll never meet a deadline, that your book will never be written, or that you are being lazy. They are not going to be there to console you when your passion fades, they are not going to be there when you are too tired to get out of bed (for the third day in a row) and they won't be there to help you pick the pieces of your life back up when you are starting to feel better. They think they have all the advice, but those people aren't going to be there when the poop hits the fan. So don't listen to them, even if it is a voice in your head telling you these things. The thing I learned from my burn out is:
Your wellbeing is worth more than a paycheck or deadline.
Having to postpone a deadline by a day, a week, or even a year doesn't matter in the long run. What will matter is if you push yourself too hard - to the point of breaking - over a date that isn't more important than your health.
Until next time: Be kind to yourselves.
After years of standing in front of classrooms, pubescent children trying desperately not to learn, I still find the blank page the most intimidating creature of all.
Spit-balls, fart jokes and inaccurate genitalia drawings have nothing on the nerve-wracking awkwardness of following a dream. But here I am… Post One. Or as I lovingly refer to it “The time it took 30 minutes to write a sentence.”
I have been writing for as long as I can remember… which to be fair isn’t that impressive of a statement seeing as I have the mind of a pasta strainer. Things that you think are too important to fall through the holes can, and often do, fall through into the gurgling sink of my forgetfulness. But, there are brief memories of writing from when I was younger. Stories of seals, vampires and, well, some fan fiction that never needs to see the light of day. I always enjoyed hearing, reading and creating stories. Even when I went through the too-much-eyeliner phase; writing still had an inescapable grip on me. So when I started this journey, and taking my writing seriously, I thought that I had all I needed:
However, I quickly found that writing is so much more than that. It is knowing what’s going on in the world. It is an opportunity for expression: a chance to say something about the world, highlight its flaws and qualities. It is a community: a network of friends who challenge and support you. It is asking the hard questions about what is important to you. It is revising your work until your eyes bleed, then handing it to others who show you all the things you missed. It is business: marketing, data analysis, trends *shudder*.
It is a lot of work.
That was one of the main things that surprised me about starting on this journey; that is, for something that claims to be an introvert activity, there is a lot of interaction with others.
But fear not. This interaction is the reason I haven’t fled in fear. The community of writers… there is nothing like it. Even in teaching, where collaboration and resource sharing is vital, there isn’t this unreserved desire to build up and share. So, dear reader, if you are thinking of writing: find yourself a community. Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook… there are a number of different avenues to find your community.
In all the classes I attended on creative writing, not one mentioned the benefits of the online community. Since joining I have been pushed to experiment, explain and just plain old write more words.
And don’t freak out if you’re worried about it starting… we all were – and still are.
The community has taught me:
The laughable part is that with the very same minds that we use to harm ourselves, we are building each other up.
So, push through it. You can do it. It might be harder or more complex than you imagined. But..
You. Can. Do. It.
Now, go write. Who knows… in a week we could be Twitter buddies …in a year I might be reading your published work.
Remember: Like wine we all get better with age. What you couldn’t write last year, you might be able to today.
On that note, I’m off to grab a glass of celebratory wine. First blog post written.