1. Wynter

    Wynter Active Member

    Aug 12, 2014
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    Describing a Place

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Wynter, Dec 24, 2014.

    I have the flaw of whenever I describe something, I dunno, I feel like I should have more there? Like the houses were like this or the smell of something or other was in their air, but in recognizing this I also don't know how to do it?

    So how do you guys describe your settings?
  2. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    The details that you give should serve to create the atmosphere/mood you want. So if it's a spooky house, don't use words like "sparkling curtains", and if it's supposed to be a comfortable, luxurious house, don't describe anything as "brown like dirt". Focus on details your character would naturally notice - there's no point spending a paragraph on tables and chairs unless there's something special about them. A general piece of advice would be describe everything you possibly can with all five senses, and then go back and now delete everything that's unnecessary, irrelevant, or simply doesn't contribute to what you want to achieve. Not all five senses are needed in every piece of description. Pick the most powerful ones and delete the rest. If two pieces of detail basically serves the same purpose - unless you wanted that for emphasis - delete the less powerful detail. Stay in the active voice and avoid filters like "She saw" and "He felt" and minimise "There was" etc.

    For more specific advice, you should probably just post something in the workshop for critique :)
  3. SwampDog

    SwampDog Senior Member

    Mar 5, 2013
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    Back in Blighty
    Some writers like florid and livid prose and spend para after para describing a scene. Others prefer subtle hints and let the reader use their imagination.

    I'm just finishing a John Grisham novel. The MC hasn't been described in detail. I only know his age, and the fact that he may have reasonable looks because of flirtatious eye contact with a juror. Yet I can picture him in detail.

    Detailed descriptions can be important, but need to be relevant to the tale. If not, it's telling the reader what to perceive, defeating the object. May as well include a photo in the book.

    a. Bob Carver crouched under the helicopter, desperate to shelter himself from the onslaught of sleet hammering across the flight deck.

    b. Bob Carver was twenty-three years old and had short blond hair and blue eyes. His nails were nicely trimmed because he was proud of his appearance. He was wearing a navy windcheater which perfectly fit his muscled and toned body. Sleet had started to fall and this made Bob feel cold. The sleet was icy, falling out of a grey and leaden sky and melting down his back. The grey went on forever, up over the hills near the harbour, which in themselves were grey. Bob's windcheater wasn't quite the shade of blue he wanted, but...

    Write in any description you want, then cover it over. Does it alter your tale? If not, leave it out. Description must be relevant, not padding.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2014
    peachalulu likes this.
  4. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Jul 11, 2010
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    Near Sedro Woolley, Washington
    Description, like other types of prose, can be used for more than mere relaying of information. John Gardner, in The Art Of Fiction, suggests an exercise: Describe a barn seen from the point of view of a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, the war, or death. (Gardner suggests about a page for this - maybe 300 words or so.)

    If an exercise like this is done well, the reader will get more than just the facts of what the barn looks like. He'll also get a powerful sense of the mood and emotion of the character.

    If all you want to do is convey to the reader that a house is there, you can do minimal description. But don't pass up the opportunity to illuminate character and emotion.
  5. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    This is GREAT advice. Spot-on. What a good exercise!
  6. BlessedbyHorus

    BlessedbyHorus Member

    Dec 22, 2014
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    You're not alone on this OP. I have this same problem. It seems I'm more efficient at describing characters than a setting. When it comes to setting, I may have to do research on a certain architecture.

    How I personally describe my settings is just pointing out the obvious/standing out things than the minor stuff. i.e like instead of describing the whole entire throne room, I would describe how the throne room has a giant hole in it(like Game of Thrones). Again just my personal way.

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