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  1. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Active Member

    Dec 13, 2009
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    Does it come before the action?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by waitingforzion, Apr 20, 2014.

    If I am writing a story, should I place a description of the setting before the first incident or after it? Or should my description be part of it?

    And how much description should I have in my story?
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    This is very much a "it depends" question. I would say that most often, description should be part of action, but there would be plenty of possible exceptions.

    How much description is also very "it depends". I lean toward fairly minimal description, but that's a matter of taste. However, I feel that avoiding description that has no particular purpose is less a matter of taste--I think that description should pretty much always have a reason for being there.
    obsidian_cicatrix likes this.
  3. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    check out any dozen novels by respected writers and see how they do it... then decide which way works best for your story...
  4. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 26, 2014
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    I don't think anyone can tell you, or should for that matter. It all depends upon your vision for the scene, what details of the setting are critical to a coming action (cover for gunfights, tall building for "Die Hard" type action, sinking ship ala "Titanic"), or if it is a fantasy or SF, details that allow the reader to even understand why things are happening or what they are.
  5. fmmarcy

    fmmarcy Member

    Oct 20, 2011
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    North Carolina
    I think it really comes down to "showing" rather than "telling". Of course, as has been mentioned before, methods differ, but your descriptions should be a natural part of the story. Details should be described as characters interact with them, notice them, or look at them. Don't go into sweeping detail about every location in a story, unless perhaps your character is staring intensely at a structure/vista/scene and studying it. Descriptions should always serve a purpose in your story. Don't give details just for window dressing, so to speak. Ask yourself what purpose your description serves in the greater story. If you can clearly define why, either in relation to characters, plot, or themes you're probably on the right track.
  6. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    There is no "should" in this case.
  7. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    Yeah, I agree. If you stick to what your POV character is concerned with, then you won't be writing an info-dump.

    In general I'd resist the urge to describe everything the POV character MIGHT see, if he stood and studied his environment closely. Instead, mention only what he's actually aware of, as he moves through the setting. That limits what you're dumping on the reader, eliminates 'telling' and gets us straight into the scene via the character's experience with it.

    If he's sneaking up on a guard outside the palace bedroom, intending to break in and kill the king, he's not necessarily going to be concerned with what colours the ceiling is painted, or whether or not the vase at the end of the corridor contains a philodendron or a petunia.

    Instead, he's going to be concentrating on the polished floor, worried that he might slip if he's not careful. Maybe he's counting the squares of marble inlaid into the floor, in order to gauge the length of the strides he needs to take to get to the guard before the guard sees him coming. He'll be aware of which way the guard is facing. And what kind of weapon the guard is carrying. And if the guard looks ready to bring the weapon into play. He'll be aware of the proximity of any other persons, too. Is the corridor quiet, or can he hear voices at a distance? Things like this.

    If you can filter ALL the details of your scene through the mind and eyes of your POV character, you'll be winning this game.

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