1. Shaun4
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    Shaun4 New Member

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    The geography of a room where people move around

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Shaun4, Jul 20, 2012.

    One thing that I struggle with is people moving around inside a room. ie.) Do you want to lay out the relevant information about the geography right at the start of a scene, sketch it in as you go, or something in between.

    For example: two men talking in an office while sorting through some photos on a side counter, then they sit down, one behind the desk and the other in an armchair. Can you just sketch that in as they do things, or should the beginning of the scene establish where the counter is, where the desk is, how far apart the men are, etc.

    One thing to keep in mind is that this is my MC visiting a respected old leader in the old man's office, so the office will be described in a way that helps to shape how the reader sees the old man.

    Another problem scene is a fight in a hotel room where someone is blinded by a flashbang and feels around for his gun before the baddies come to get him. It's hard to strike the balance between over-explaining infodump and keeping the ability to surprise readers. Any tips?
     
  2. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    All you need to worry about is writing that "Tom sat down in the chair." The reader will assume that there was a chair in the room for Tom to sit in.

    But, let's say there is an elephant in the room. "Tom sat down in the chair." <time and text passes> "An elephant sat on Tom." Errr... The reader is going to wonder why Tom didn't notice the elephant when he first opened the door.

    To sum - If there is something significant to the scene that would be noticed by your narrator (depending on the point of view) then you will probably have to describe it as being there. If there is something that the character will interact with, but is a mundane object in the scene, there's no necessity to describe it beforehand. Any descriptions you give for a scene need to either add flavor to the scene, be significant in someway, be immediately noticeable by the character/narrator or, otherwise, be noticeable in the case of a lack of a description. If it doesn't add to the story or isn't completely necessary, don't dwell on it too much.

    Few things are more frustrating to a reader than having to sit through endless and tedious scene descriptions. Some stories read like Dungeons and Dragons games, if you're familiar with those. If not, here's an example:

    "Your party walks into the room. It is about thirty feet, square. The flickering torches reveal a walled chamber of stone, damp from the mist of a small fountain in the center of the room. To the West, you see the remains of a wall hanging depicting an epic battle against some strange beast. The North, what appears to be an iron door occupies much of the center of the wall, flanked by two statues of some unknown metal. To the South, you see some debris piled against the wall. To the East, the door from which you entered the room lies in the center of the wall. The room smells musty and the cold air is heavy with moisture."

    Those are significant things to the party of adventurer players, but the same scene might not be described the same way in a novel. If it was, the reader would likely throw the novel across the room and go play D&D, instead. In the game, the players need an up-front description of the room so they can base decisions on that description. In a novel, the reader only needs to know what is necessary for them to make sense out of what is happening in a story or that provides good flavor, setting and theme additions for a story.

    Think about it like this:

    How many windows have you read about in good novels that a character did not look out of?

    Count them, go ahead. I will wait... How many writers described rooms with windows in them that never had anything to do with what a character was doing, what they saw or had any significant in a scene? The answer would likely be - Not very many at all. That's because there was no need to mention them before starting the action or during the scene as nothing significant in the story ever occurred that involved them. The worlds in novels are filled with windows that have never been opened, never been looked through, climbed through or have never rattled in the night and, especially, that readers have never, ever read about.

    When you get stuck or hung up on writing scene descriptions, just ask yourself - "Is there a window in this room that the character is not going to look out of?" If there is, remove the window from the description.. or whatever else is bugging you. Later, if the scene needs more flavor in its description, add it.
     

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