This week we discussed description and setting, both of which can easily lead to exposition (you know, the dumping of info). The following is what we came up with for helping put these things in their write place in the story (not a mistake).
What is the purpose – in this part of the story? The overall purpose is, of course, communication, but how do we help the reader experience the character, place, events in the story by the use of these tools? How do we help the reader connect with the story; how do we show personality, situation, attitude, mood, atmosphere?
What does it do – for the story? Description must not be separate from the story – it must contribute to the story, or it doesn’t belong in the story at all. The reader needs to feel the experience, be the perception of the invoked character, mood, etc. It is not about just the physical things – what is the mood? the atmosphere? What are the symbolic meanings that could be attached to the description to show these? How does the description link to other threads in the story?
Who or what is being described? POV? And where is it in the story? Have we been there before? How does it affect the reader? Why?
A setting is a place, but what is the season, the weather, who are the people who live/operate in this place, what do they do, how do they speak, interact? Are there aspects of conflict in setting? Think of setting as a character – and it has to contribute to the story. Does the setting suit the needs of the story? And what has happened to the place over time? Has it never changed? Aspect of perception.
We discussed scene prior to this toolbox, and to recap, a scene is one EVENT that happens in one POV in one point of time in one PLACE. Think before describing: what is the scene about? What is the response (of reader/character)? Is there something hidden, foreshadowed, planted?
So, to discuss describing the setting in a scene, consider the above: how does the description move the story in the scene? What does it add? What senses are involved? How does the character respond to place? Focus on what the story needs, and leave it out if it’s not necessary – if it’s not vital for the reader to know, those words are a waste of your effort.
Use description (and setting) in small doses; use things the character connects to; use the first impressions rule (for that character); evoke images through word choice; be original; use the senses; avoid cliché; leave out the insignificant details; use the weather (but follow the rules of how it relates to story); be clear what is important.
And there you have it – another simple, easy, clearly defined flow of words that will fix (my) the problem with description and setting. Whew! Now to put that into practice.