Showing Not Telling: Setting

Monday, March 8

The setting of your story is important. It's the time and the place, the stage for your characters.

But it's important to give a sense of setting without bogging the reader down with details.

When I'm reading, I tend to skim through the descriptions about the "dew-kissed glades, the pale coin of a sun rising like a burning emblem against the azure sky, tinged with the pink of a new day..." yada yada yada.

One way to incorporate the setting into the story is through dialogue.
Quoting from my September post;

Dialogue can also tell the reader about the scenery. For example;

"...five steps, six steps. Six steps long."
"What is?"
"This cell."
"Quit splashing around in the water and sit down."
"Sit down where? Everywhere is wet."
"Well standing by that barred window won't help your health much either."

We can already see that a) they're in a cell, b)it's wet, c) it's small, and d) it has a barred window.
A little more interesting than

The room was wet and cold. It had a barred window. It was small.

But the main thing a writer wants it to set up the scene with as few words as possible, without it sounding like a travel guide. This is usually accomplished by having the characters thoughts and actions reflect his surroundings.

Travel guide version;

The area is prone to sunshine, though for the last hundred years or so, the people of Pent have experienced cold and snowy weather.
To the west of the small village is a vast wood. This wood is the primary source of food for the villagers, but they must be cautious of the wolves that live there.
The area is flat, with few hills. This provides a wide view across the Pent Plains.

Now let's try incorporating it into the story;

Jace pulled his hood around his ears. Folks said that a hundred years ago snow had never chilled these expansive plains. It was hard to believe with the cold biting at him so fiercely.
He trudged away from the village of Pent toward the woods, the only place to find food these days.
A howl erupted from the trees. Jace gripped his knife. The wolves wouldn't get him unarmed. Not this time.

Which one do you prefer?

2 comment(s):

Milli Monday, March 08, 2010  

Awesome post! Thanks, this one helped me a lot. I guess I was kind of writing like a travel guide:]

Story Weaver Monday, March 08, 2010  

Glad to have helped.
It makes this blog all the more worth it. :)

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