Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Utilizing Setting

Here's another writing skill I've learned as I go: using your setting well, especially when a setting is visited more than once.

Have you ever made up a list of your settings and taken note of how many times you use them? No? I don't normally either, but I did this time and the data revealed a wealth of information. It made me think about how I distributed details describing that setting and how I was using my setting to set the tone or as an active story element. I understood the initial theory of the latter already. It was time to try it out.

So I combed through my scene profiles and made up a list of settings, noted when they were used, and what details were used. As I came to settings used more than once, I especially wanted to know what details would be different each time the setting was visited. That lead me to consider what the atmosphere or mood of the scene was.

For instance, the first time a character visited a dining room, it could be full of people, lively chatter, the clank and clatter of dishes, the smells of freshly made food. Those kinds of details the character would notice right off. If the character was looking for someone in the scene, they would focus on people more than anything else, and if their mood was hopeful or happy, they might find the sunshine coming through the windows adds to their mood. But say the same character visits the same setting later on and the mood and setting has altered. The character is sad and the room is empty. There are no people, the smells are old and stale, it's quiet. The sun may still be shining outside, but it feels hot and stuffy and oppressive to the character. Or perhaps it's now raining and the wind can be heard whipping around the corners of the building. Maybe the circumstances are familiar to before with lots of people and action going on, but this time the character doesn't look at anyone. They scurry to a corner table or seat and play with their food. The food served this time they hate, and the time seems to tick by slowly - illustrated by the grandfather clock in the corner. So many options!

Differentiating details help set the tone of a scene. And no one notices everything about a setting when they go into it - unless they're a detective looking for clues. Think about when you walk into a room or a park even. What details do you notice, depending on your mood and the circumstances that brought you to that place? The next time you go to the same place, I'll bet you, like me, notice different things, or changes in the same things you noticed before.

A setting can act as an antagonist. It doesn't necessarily have to be a haunted house or the lair of a killer with obvious danger signs. The setting might have been once a favorite place, now tainted by plot elements that has soured the memories. Or there may be a hidden danger or trigger in the setting. A fire breaking out would make a setting a definite threat. A setting can also be a refuge or sanctuary, a resting place where a character can strengthen themselves for the battles to come.

I've learned to consider these things, in conjunction with utilizing the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch) to describe settings, filtering the description through the narrative, not lumping it all together. I feel it's made me a better writer and I notice even more depth and subtlety to my story because of it. Showing these kinds of details at the right time, in the right place, in the right way makes a lot of difference.

My challenge for you is to try analyzing your scenes and checking to make sure you are using them to the best of your ability. If you do, tell me about what you discovered. If you're an old hand at this sort of thing, do you have any further advice for me and my readers on utilizing and differentiating setting visits?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Writing Update for February

Hi everyone, I'm back!

The downside to having surgery is pain and having to spend weeks in bed. The upside is that you get a lot of writing done. In fact, I'm happy to announce that Trefury: The Secrets of Callorin is written! At least the next draft of it. I've already plunged into my polishing draft, which means beta readers should get it in their hands in a few months and then the final leg of another book begins. It's exciting.

You think that writing that first book is quite the accomplishment, but to get up and write/finish a second one takes just as much effort. The big difference is the newness of the process is no longer a novelty. I expect it's the same with every subsequent book that you get done.

So I have a nice fat 3-ring binder and a nice fat notebook containing all the inside interviews with characters, the brainstorming sessions, the detailed descriptions, and the story itself. It's not in chapters yet, but separated by scenes thanks to my scene profiles. Remember me talking about those? Can I just say that I wish I'd known about making scene profiles years ago? They were a lot of time and effort, but they really helped me streamline the story and get it down on paper. It was super easy to follow through on object/character/plot threads, to take notes, to make sure I didn't have any gaping plot holes to fill. And the best part is that I can organize my information and notes easily for this next draft.

So what does the polishing draft do? Well, this is where the details come out, dialogue is refined, the plot is trimmed even more, and I make sure I don't have redundancies, tangents, or other no-no's. Basically, at this stage, you want to make the novel your best current effort. And then you give it to other writers to read ... I've blogged several times about that stage.

If you've got a moment, tell me how you are doing. How goes your writing journey? What stage are you at?