By: Mary Buckham, @MaryBuckham
How do you initially show the setting in the scene? The reader does need a quick “anchoring,” probably in the first few paragraphs of a new scene or new chapter, or a change in location. Where are we? What time of day is it? Is it quiet or noisy? What is the quality of light?
The reader will be mentally asking these questions, and the longer you keep the information from them, the less they will focus on what you want them to focus on. The reader will become more removed from the story and the characters, and instead be trying to figure out the where, when, who, or why.
Once you’ve established or anchored the reader into the where of your story, using a strong setting description, you do not need to continue to embellish and rehash a setting. Let the characters interact with the setting, move through it, pick things up and brush past them, once the reader knows the character is in a place already described.
How Setting Affects Pacing
If the character is returning to a place that hasn’t been described in depth previously, the reader will not be as open to a slower pacing on the revisit so you can describe setting. The reader has most likely created her own visuals, because a reader needs to see the characters in some context. This is a small but important point, and an error many new writers make.
Beginning writers often:
- wait until it’s too late to describe and orient the reader as to place;
- or totally forget that the reader has no idea where the character is in the story, because the location has suddenly moved from a known to a new, unknown location.
If I write, Joe left his home and went to the city, the setting is so vague that it leaves you clueless and frustrated. But if I write, Joe left his beachside cottage and drove into Lake Forest City, a northern suburb of Seattle, the addition of a few specifics gives you enough to inhabit the character’s world while keeping the main focus on what’s happening in the story.
How Setting Affects Characterization and Conflict
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