1. Darrell Standing
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    Darrell Standing Member

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    Generic settings

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Darrell Standing, Oct 8, 2013.

    Do you feel that the writer should give some description of every setting, even generic ones like cafes, supermarkets, inside a car etc? I can generally visualise this without description. How important do you rate describing a setting/scene?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Goodness, no. How tedious that would be. I already start glazing over when writers want to describe a character to me, head to toe. Describe the parts that are actually pertinent and happening in the story. Don't start telling me what's on the counter behind the soda fountain unless someone has picked up that something and popped someone else in the face with it.
     
  3. Darrell Standing
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    Darrell Standing Member

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    Haha...popped them in the face with it... I have a habit of getting bogged down in superfluous details at times...something I'm trying to get out of my game!
     
  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    It depends.

    I have read books with next to no little descriptions of things/locations and some with so much description I began skipping entire paragraphs because it was nothing but descriptions of clothing and stuff.

    For generic, you can usually keep it to a bare minimum. You can tell us the make of the car and when the character sits down maybe let us know it's a leather interior and they see empty fast food containers.

    Only time you should overly detail something if it's something very unique or somehow pertinent to what's occurring/will occur.
    Such as your MC walking down a dark alley. Nothing much to describe but it can help set the mood if they began feeling uneasy or scared.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    We all do it at some point, and some writers like Michael Chabon have a gift for making it readable, but more often than not, it's the kind of stuff that causes the reader's eye to wander forwarded looking for a verb of action and tuning back in once found. ;)
     
  6. Darrell Standing
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    Darrell Standing Member

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    Interesting. So it should serve a function always? Long rambling descriptions can be fun too tho? (I don't mean Middlemarch btw) :)
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    They can, of course, but you have to pick your moments. You mentioned describing the interior of a car. For me, the reader, to buy into you the writer detailing that car out, there has to be a why to it, and at that point it no longer qualifies as a generic setting, n'est-ce pas? If the car is just some random car being used to grocery-get and the real action is the conversation between the mother and daughter and the daughter is trying to find some segue to talk about her secret pregnancy to the Lord So&So of Bighonkin Castle, which under other circumstances would be wonderful news except that the So&Sos are Catholic and the girl comes from a stout conservative Protestant family.... and you start describing the car to me, I'm going to be like wtf?

    That's what I mean. ;)
     
  8. Darrell Standing
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    Darrell Standing Member

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    ^^Totally get you ;)
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say describe stuff that, e.g. adds to the mood or to the character, like, I dunno, a guy enters a coffee shop, and "a sweet, strong aroma of dark roast met him at the doorway. It made him feel like home." Or perhaps mention some detail that's important plot-wise. "He bumped his hip to a brown plastic table, placed too close to the door" Then later, the table has some role, slows down a thief, or whatever. I don't know if there's some "rule" to this, but usually I don't like to read long descriptions of generic places, but a few crucial details dropped in can be really nice, make the scene come alive.
     
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  10. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    What is a "generic" setting? Is there an "un-generic" setting? :)
    No, really, I understand the term "generic" only in RPG sources (random encounters need a generic monster, and meeting a generic quest giver needs a generic tavern) - but fiction is not RPG, although there are loads of crap novels out there that look like transcripts from game sessions. But those are crap. :)

    I love detailed descriptions: but there really has to be some reason for them. Whoever the story's narrator is, there must be a reason (even an unreasonable one) for why he shifts his focus to objects, atmosphere, smells, background sounds, etc. There is an old saying, "A landscape is just a reflection of the soul" - or, a mirror to your focal character's inner workings.

    For example: not everyone who enters a restaurant would see and feel the same things, or goes there for the same reason. One is just in for a quick snack. The other meets an old flame. Another is having an important business lunch. A guy wants to buy the restaurant, and another is an ex-employee who seeks revenge. There is a married couple who can't stand each other, a cheating couple who are afraid someone might recognize them, a gay couple who can't openly express what they feel. Etc, etc. Each of these characters can be in your focus, and each of them would have a unique view of his/her surroundings. Some might be fascinated by quasi-art-deco wall decorations and spend their dinner talking about them - other might find them kitschy and bad taste - yet others might not even notice them.

    Another question is what differentiates one scene settings from the next, as you devise them? Are you simply stating in the beggining of a dialogue that your characters are driving in a car or sitting at a coffee shop? Why are they there? Different things happen in different places - people should act differently in public and in private, while driving to a scene of a crime or taking a shower after sex or having diner with their grandparents. I don't think that characters should be "at a location" - they should be "in a situation".
     
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  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's really important to give the reader a sense of each place. To mention a couple of key elements which will make each setting in the story come to life. By this I don't mean a whole paragraph, or a page, sometimes an adjective, or even a verb is enough, showing some characters reaction to it, or a mention of something that transpired there before etc. There are many ways to do it, and I think it's much better than indicating to the reader it is a 'generic' setting. Perhaps if that is a feature (like calling a cafe 'nondescript') it's fine, but you can't do that too often, because then it reads like you as a writer don't care (so why should the reader?).
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2013
  12. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think unless it matters to the story let the reader decide what a coffee shop looks like. It's a coffee shop - what else is it going to smell like? Greasy fish and chips? To tell me the floor tiles were black and white checked with a mop in a bucket standing lonely outside the restrooms like a one-legged upside down scarecrow would make me want to dunk your head in it. If there's one thing I hate about reading it's flowery writers purring over their own self-indulgence. Filling a page with description is fun? Not for me - I'd quickly bin it and vow never to read that writer again. Rant over, sorry :)
     

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