Monday, November 9, 2009
Bringing Our Settings To Life
This picture wouldn't be near as interesting without the feet. It would just be a picture of a big, ugly mud puddle. The feet make us feel the dirt and the water, the glee in the young boy's heart as mud cakes to his toes, and the freedom of summer. It may even create anticipation of what the poor boy's mother is going to do when he comes in the house and leaves muddy footprints across her newly installed white wall-to-wall carpet. Have you ever been reading a book and come across a descriptive passage about setting and skimmed right over it? I have. Many times. So how do we describe our settings without boring our readers? Well, according to Donald Maass in The Fire in Fiction, the key is to bring the setting to life through our characters eyes. Much like this photo is brought to life by the feet running through the mud, our settings can come alive by how they affect our characters. Ask yourself this: What emotions does the setting invoke in my characters? How do my characters' feelings about this place change over time? Do my characters' opinions about the world they live in affect how they view this setting? If you can answer these questions and convey the result, you'll be off to a great start. This is a struggle for me. I have to work hard to make my settings come alive. Just ask my beta readers. Lucky for me, Maass devotes a whole chapter to this and includes some invaluable exercises to help us through this. How do you make your settings come alive?