Setting is hard for me to write. It’s always the point where I slow to a slug’s pace. I think the main reason for this is when I read, I never give the setting my full attention. Just give me the basics so I can concentrate on the dialogue and character arc. Not surprising, dialogue and character arc I do well.
Up until now, I thought I set the scene well enough, but I’ve been reading craft about plot and story structure, which has helped a lot. Unfortunately, (but really fortunately) strengthening those muscles has shown me how weak my setting muscles are.
I decided on two books, Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle and Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. I started with Description & Setting. So far, so good. The early chapters give techniques for being more observant like carrying a notebook or journaling. There’s a chapter coming up about using the five sense for description, which isn’t something new I’ve heard, but it got me thinking about how the brain processes an image.
When we see, for example, a car, the reason we know it’s a car is because of our memories. But we don’t have a memory file labeled “car” in our brain. When an image comes up the optic nerve, our brain pulls data from numerous parts of our mind and puts them together to tell us what we’re looking at. The shape, size, color and a host of other traits are combined so we’re able to say, “That’s a car.” It’s a complex system and I want to bring that to my writing.
Sometimes a tree is just a tree, but if that tree will work to set a tone or build on my character’s mood, it can’t be just a tree. It has to be more than just a tree so the reader can connect on the same level as I do. If I want a reader to feel like they’re at the coffee shop with my characters, I could say coffee shop and most everyone will know what that’s like. But why stop there? Why not compliment their memories with some details? Obviously, the balancing act of when I need more description or scene setting is mine to figure out.
I’d like to finish Description & Setting this week, so I can put the lessons to work right away.