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  1. AmyWriter
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    AmyWriter Member

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    Do i describe the setting or leave it unknown?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by AmyWriter, Aug 20, 2015.

    Often in my stories I imagine the place where the characters are but I'm too lazy to actually write it so I usually just write something like "They're outside" or "In the boys' room" but then I go and write something like "they sat on the fence" or "they looked out the window", I feel like I completely leave my readers hanging and then say "then he sat on this chair that I didn't tell you about." Should I not feel like this? Should I stay like this? Or, should I describe the setting?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You need to give the reader just enough detail for them to picture the scene. "They're outside" is not enough detail. Are they outside in a field? In a school playground? On the moon?

    At the same time, the reader doesn't need to know about every piece of furniture in the room as soon as a scene opens. If we know we're in an eight year old boy's room we will put a bed in our mental image without you needing to tell us that it's there.

    One of my scenes consists of a cricket match. It opens with my character sitting in the stands. That's all the reader needs to know - we all know what a cricket pitch looks like. It would be a waste of page space for me to describe that there is a big circular patch of green grass and rows of plastic chairs around the perimeter. Another scene opens in somebody's living room. There I give a longer description about the exposed, low beams, the sofa and chairs arranged around the fireplace, and the bookshelves with well-read paperbacks. Then my reader can fill in all the blanks but their mental image should, if I've done my job effectively, be of their version of a cosy room where the family gathers to spend time together. They will put paint on the walls and decide the style of sofa, and that's fine. The only parts you need to describe in detail are those that affect the plot in a significant way.
     
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  3. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    Yes, you should. I agree with Tenderiser. The readers need enough details to picture the scene.

    If you are not comfortable with describing the setting in itself, have you tried doing it through interaction?
    Maybe your characters like touching things around them. Or have them use the objects. For instance, there might be a football lying around in the boys' room. Why not have the boy kick it against the wall, even though he is not allowed to? This allows you to mention why it is forbidden. It might be, because the room is too cramped. It might be, because the ball has already started to stain the wallpaper.

    Also, pure descriptions can be boring, however, characters are able to perceive a lot. There is noise to be heard, temperature/objects to be felt, shadows, shapes and colours to be seen, and they can also comment on their surroundings. This could liven up your descriptions.
     
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  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    @rainy_summerday makes a really good point - engage all the five senses in your descriptions. It's not just what your character sees but what they hear, smell, feel and taste.
     
  5. AmyWriter
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    AmyWriter Member

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    I like these ideas. Having a character describe their surroundings, for instance:
    Marshal sat in the cellar. "This place is foil. The walls are chipping and there are rats everywhere." Marshal remarked.

    Thank you for the help. You two, Tenderiser. This is very helpful.
     
  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That doesn't quite work. Why would Marshal say out loud that this place is foil (I'm not sure what that means?) and that there are rats? Who is he speaking to? If someone else is in the room they can see the place, so he doesn't need to describe it to them.

    It could be more like:

    Marshal sat in the dank, rat-infested cellar. The smell of damp made him wrinkle his nose and he turned his face towards the tiny, barred window, trying to catch a breeze of fresh air. As he moved, the chains on his wrists rattled and part of the stone wall crumbled, raining sharp little shards onto his head.
     
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  7. AmyWriter
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    AmyWriter Member

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    My friend was rushing me and I didn't finish. I'm sorry. I meant for Marshal to be telling his father that he didn't want to stay in the cellar. Foil was a mistype. I meant foul.
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ahh, that makes sense. :) I'm still not convinced it sounds natural to describe a setting in speech like that. Marshal might say "I hate this place. It's foul." but I don't see why he would go into more detail when his father is in the same room. Maybe you can write it out as speech, imagining Marshal explaining why he hates the cellar, and then take the speech marks out so it's just a description?
     
  9. AmyWriter
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    AmyWriter Member

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    Hmm. True. Good idea.
     

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