1. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Sep 24, 2009
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    Alabama, USA

    How should I describe sci-fi settings without going overboard?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Link the Writer, Sep 10, 2011.

    This is what I have so far in my Santarnica story:

    HMS Santarnica to Board Control, requesting clearance to land.”
    The sleek, metallic-grey vessel cut effortlessly through the clouds. Through the bridge window, Captain Helen Chert saw the familiar white coastline of her homeland. Her heart swelled when she saw the vast, endless field of green. She was home.

    “Clearance granted.” The static voice on the intercom replied. “Report to Station 44C.”
    “Rodger, Board Control. Enroute.”
    <Insert really big gap>
    The fields soon gave way to a city. Helen saw the familiar skyscrapers that towered by possibly hundreds of stories. Weaving in and out of the buildings were many ships
    <Insert yet another really big gap>
    “Well done, lads.” She smiled at the two young pilots. “Well done.”

    It has two huge gaps, I know. That's because I'm not exactly sure how to describe things such as the bridge, etc.

    My issue with this sort of thing is...how do I easily describe what's happening without going for pages upon pages about how the bridge is a half-circle shape thing, etc. I want to be able to find a balance where it's enough for the readers to see what it looks like, yet not be so lost in it that they forget what's happening or say something like, "They're going to land eventually, right? When are you going to stop waxing descriptions?"

    Like with the city. I want to describe a futuristic version of Inverness, Scotland (now called High Inverness, capital of the Scottish Empire) without going too overboard with it.

    Plus, when I start thinking about the clothing they'd wear, the food they're eating...it just gets overwhelming.

  2. Mallory

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Jun 27, 2010
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    Tampa Bay
    Don't describe it in paragraph form - mention it in passing. I have a blog entry about this. Long story short, say something like "She passed the crescent-shaped bridge" instead of "The bridge was shaped like a half-circle, etc...." Slip it in naturally and in-passing.

    Also, get rid of the phrase "her heart swelled." Sorry, but...yeah. ;)

    And I'd write in active voice. "Ships wove in and out of the buildings," not "In and out of the buildings wove many ships."

    Hope I helped - your writing is pretty good here overall! :)
  3. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Describe only what is necessary. Then decide which half of THAT to remove as well.

    It's great that you have a vivid image of your setting, but don't shove it down the reader's throat. Give the reader's imagination a chance.
  4. Batgoat

    Batgoat New Member

    Jul 9, 2011
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    New Zealand
    Pick out three or four of the MAIN features of your city. The features that when your MCs look out the window, they KNOW that they're in the city. The reader doesn't need a blow by blow account of every feature in the city. Too much of this kind of information makes for a yawn fest and overwhelms the reader. They might find themselves skipping pages to try and find where the action is, or worse yet, putting the story down and finding some paracetamol for their headache.

    Unless its absolutely essential to the story, you don't have to go overboard with such things. A few well chosen words is all that is needed, without reams and reams of information.
  5. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

    Feb 10, 2011
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    Rotorua, New Zealand

    Bits and pieces. I generally use a paragraph or two of description, depending on how important it is that the scene be set, (sometimes a lot more as I let my thoughts run away with me), and then add further descriptive elements as the narrative continues. So on my ship's bridge I described it in general terms, and then added to it over the following pages as my MC was using it.

    Some things though are important to give detail on, and personally I don't worry too much if I go overboard in the description at various points, even if it slows down the action for a couple of pages. I want to bring the setting to life, and in the context of a hundred thousand words or more, I figure its acceptable. But that's a judgement call, mine as the writers, and you have to make the same call for your own work.

  6. Banzai

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Mar 31, 2007
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    Reading, UK
    This is good advice. Remember, as a writer you're description should only provide a framework of essential details. The reader's imagination will fill in the best, and their own imagination (properly directed by yourself) will affect them more deeply than a splurge from yours.

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