1. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    How long to spend setting the scene

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by mashers, Jun 17, 2016.

    I've got several characters planned for my novel who will each, individually (but with some overlap) interact with the central premise of the story and be affected by it in some way. I want to set up context for each character to set the scene and to give then a reason to be affected by the technology about which the story is written. My question is, how long should I spend setting the scene and developing the reader's understanding of the characters before I get to the main point?

    The central premise is a technological advance, so I am considering having the characters witness advertising for this technology and reflect on it in their inner monologue, thus giving the reader a glimpse of what is to come. But I'm still concerned that too much time spent setting the scene will cause readers to give up before they get to the main point.

    I am intending to approach an agent with this book and I'm also concerned that they won't be able to read far enough in to discover the main thrust of the plot if I spend too much time early on setting the scene. However, I'm concerned that if I don't spend enough time setting the scene then the reader won't identify with the characters or understand their motives.
     
  2. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    It's up to you. It varies between authors. There are quite a lot of questions in writing where it's not so much what's right but how well you do it. Writing is quite flexible and personal. I would advise you that you can spread information out, so you can do loads and loads, more than you could get away with in one bit, if you put it only when relevant/most interesting.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2016
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    So have plenty of sub-plots.

    Each character has a problem they've got to solve; doesn't have to be earth-shattering, but it does have to cause them some grief. Maybe Marty wants to go out with Sue-Ellen, but she's out of his league? Maybe Jimmy wants to get onto the team for a major tournament, but he's recovering from a broken leg (check out Joe Ledley!)

    Let them try to solve these problems while you're introducing them, and foreshadowing the Central Premise Technology.
     
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  4. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Thanks guys. I appreciate the feedback. Several sub plots is exactly the plan, and the foreshadowing of the technology at the heart of the plot will come initially in the form of short adverts for it which the characters see. This will serve to introduce the concept and explain it to the reader while the characters try other strategies to solve their individual crises. Later on as the characters develop their own understanding of the tech (along with the reader) they can begin to discuss it among themselves in dialogue to explicitly reference their attitudes towards it and their intentions to utilise it.

    Spreading information out is a good strategy. The chapters will cycle through the characters so each sub plot advances along roughly the same timeline, and I'll aim to subtly expand my character descriptions throughout each of their sub plot cycles.

    Thanks again guys :)
     
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  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    In general terms, as little time as possible... but I guess that's obvious.

    One approach is to write out every little tiny detail you can come up with, then go back and pick out which ones are absolutely necessary and rewrite using just those. One detail goes a long way, but three might be too far.

    The only time when it's really necessary to get description diarrhea is when a location is so far from common experience that no one will understand the setting otherwise. But if it's that far out out there, the reader isn't likely to get it anyway, no matter how long the writer takes to set the scene.

    This sounds like a good idea, especially if each of the characters has a completely different reaction to hearing about it.

    I've never had an agent, but as long as you raise questions and continue the action while expositating (Is that a word? Should be; caught in the act of being expository :) ) you should have no trouble maintaining interest.
     
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  6. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    The other approach *pointing at me here* is to write the bare bones and then flesh out. This works for me - mostly ;)
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can you give a more detailed example? I'm strongly suspecting that the reader can identify with the characters quicker than you think, but it's hard to tell without context.
     
  8. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Do you mean an example of a novel which does what I'm describing?
     
  9. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    My two cents is that with worldbuilding, even with "drastically different world" style settings, it's best to deliver it in small doses. You can do one-sentence-at-a-time mini bits of exposition, woven in alongside current and interesting action/dialogue, so that it doesn't feel like a giant wall of info or a huge diatribe.
     
  10. Zorg
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    Zorg Member

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    That could help.
     
  11. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    I would definitely avoid having the characters just stand around while pondering the sight they're witnessing. The best advice I've ever found for starting a story is from Damon Knight: an interesting character in an interesting place doing something interesting while experiencing an interesting feeling.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends where the problem lies. I try to set the scene with easy words - subway, prison transfer bus, farm, further details ( whose farm, what decade is this, is this a typical event ) but mainly I'm plunging my character into doing something. And through his actions and thoughts that's what will help set the scene. Everything compliments everything else.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that's kind of what I would suggest as well. Start with character, and get him or her interacting with the setting at the very start. Keep the reader well-oriented as to where things are taking place (unless this is something that would screw up your story) but keep the character's viewpoint in mind. There isn't any obligatory length for this. Just keep it interesting. If the character is just passing through, they probably won't be noticing much. They'll probably be looking ahead to where they're going, or thinking back on where they've just been. If they're settling in for a while, however, they will notice more. Not the details necessarily, but they'll be more aware of how the setting affects them. It's finding out how the setting affects the characters that will draw the reader in.
     

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