Posts Tagged 'Setting'

Inspiration.

I just finished Mockingjay a couple of nights ago, even though rightfully I should have been doing homework instead of plowing my way through one of the most impressive series I’ve ever read.  I could fill this post with spoilers, but I’m not going to; I’d rather have people actually go read the trilogy.  I’ve actually been pushing it in the general direction of a lot of people.  Most of these people – to their own loss – have been ignoring me.

The writing style really struck me as I read the trilogy.  At first, I didn’t like it.  It was first person.  It wasn’t first person present, though, so I didn’t hate it.  I got over my frustration with that pretty quickly, though.  I began to notice the setting and the characters.  The descriptions weren’t too much, though.  They were enough.  Enough to spark my imagination.  Collins said “electric fence” and from there I created the interior of the coal-mining town that was District 12.  She described the clothes that Katniss was wearing, but only when it was important and related to Cinna.  It wasn’t over-detailed, like some aspiring authors do, and it’s wasn’t brand specific (it couldn’t be, of course).  Nobody could feel out-of-the-loop about her descriptions.  I think that’s really important.

Her plot was mind blowing.  I keep saying “it’s just a distopia book” and it is… but at the same time, it isn’t.  I really want to go back and re-evaluate ‘Tweens now.  I want to look at my characters and make sure they’re flawed.  I want to describe more.  I want to pinpoint specific references to popular culture and eliminate them.

I want to make my stories very real.  Fantasy enough that the reader can step out of them, but real enough so they cannot forget.

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The World Around Us

As a writer, I am terrible (terrible) at setting.  I know in my head what I want, and I see it all very clearly, but I often forget to actually relay it to my readers through the written word.  For example, in ‘Tweens, Timothy has a recurring dream where he starts standing at the top of a spiral staircase that descends deep into the earth.  I know for a fact that I have relayed that the staircase is wooden, rickety, and painted white.  The white paint is chipping and peeling off, and it leaves little flakes like dandruff on the creaky steps.  That’s what I tell the reader.  But there is so much to setting that I don’t tell.

I don’t tell that there are pine trees and elm trees in the distance, and the sky is a dull, grayed twilight.  There is a gentle wind, but barely enough to move the stagnant air.  The air itself is warm and heavy with humidity, but the breeze, when it does come by, is cool and refreshing.  The abyss itself is an anomaly.  It’s a hole in the earth with crumbling dirt walls that harden to rock the deeper into the earth one travels.  The air smells like rotting meat and honey from a buzzing bee-nest that is buried in the ground a few feet away from the hole.  The land all around the hole, until it stretches out of the trees and to the distant mountains, is grassy plains.  In some places, there are dandelions, and in some areas the grass is much taller.

All those things are beautiful and they paint the image in my own head.  Where, in writing setting, should we draw the line?  I’ve learned through photography that no matter how good the camera, how good the photographer, we cannot grasp the true image as our eyes see it.  What is enough?  What is too much?  Great writers, such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien spent pages devoted to the setting.  How much does it take for The Modern Reader to get bored?  That, in the end, is where the line is.  If The Lord of the Rings had been written in 2010 exactly the way it was when Tolkien first published it, I don’t think it would get the same response, because The Modern Reader doesn’t have the same patience as he used to.  Two pages into the twelve (twenty?  fifty?) at the Council of Elrond would be enough to make the reader put the book down.

How much time do you spend devoted to setting?  How important is setting to your work(s)-in-progress?  How many details are too many details?


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something to think about

"You know, I don't know if you'll understand this or not, but sometimes, even when I'm feeling very low, I'll see some little thing that will somehow renew my faith. Something like that leaf, for instance - clinging to its tree despite wind and storm. You know, that makes me think that courage and tenacity are about the greatest values a man can have. Suddenly my old confidence is back and I know things aren't half as bad as I make them out to be. Suddenly I know that with the strength of his convictions a man can move mountains, and I can proceed with full confidence in the basic goodness of my fellow man. I know that now. I know it." ~ End of Act I in the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

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