The Journal, Saturday, 9/5

Playing around in Gila National Wilderness or someplace just as wild. No entry today about the day.

Topic: Setting and How to Write It

Okay, to start a story (of any length) you have to begin. You have to write an opening.

In order to write an opening, you have to create a character, give him a problem and drop him into a setting. But what do I mean by “setting”?

First, here I’m talking about the setting of the opening. The character(s) might move through several settings during the course of the story. Those settings will vary depending on what’s happening at the moment. And where it’s happening. And sometimes why.

But in the opening, you’re trying to get and keep the reader’s attention, and the setting has everything to do with that.

I mentioned yesterday that you should include the character’s sense of the setting in the opening. That means including all five senses if possible. (For example, if the character’s blind or in a completely dark room, probably the sense of Sight won’t be involved.)

The character’s perception and opinion of the setting will not only paint a picture for the reader, but also will tell him a lot about the character. So it’s important. Any description of the setting should pass through the perceptions of the character.

But let’s get down to the setting itself. First, it should be as focused as possible.

If your character is on Earth or the moon or a strange planet, that’s pretty vague. If he’s on the the South American continent, that’s a little more focused, but still far too general to draw the reader in. If he’s in the Amazon rain forest, that’s a little better.

But what about this:

Dr. Steven Zimmer slipped into the brush just in time. He crouched among the broad leaves and sweet, heady scent of a passion flower vine. The Amazon was flowing a few yards behind him. Several yards ahead of him, a few local males were engaged in some sort of ritual.

And his stupid camera was miles away in the stupid base camp. Wherever that was. He frowned.

But lost or not, he was still a scientist. He leaned slightly forward. His brow tightened against the whispering of the Amazon as he strained to listen.

The language was nothing more than a series of clicks and clacks. Even if he could hear it plainly, he wouldn’t have a clue what they were saying. The thought brought a grin to his face.

But the grin fled when a hand gripped his shoulder.

Then again, if your character’s down at the docks, that’s too vague, isn’t it? (Yeah, we probably need to know what city/country but not until the story moves away from the docks.) If he’s in a warehouse, that’s better. If he’s in a particular part of the warehouse, that’s a lot better.’

But what about this:

The night was dark, the air heavy. A foghorn sounded in the bay and was driven flat in the pattering rain. In the distance, somewhere back in the middle of the city, sirens wailed.

Carrying bolt cutters, Detective Steven Zimmer approached the warehouse door. A thin rivulet of rain trickled off the right front brim of his fedora.

He brought up the bolt cutters, but paused. He could barely make out the padlock. It was the same corroded non-color as the corrugated steel walls.

Maybe he could just cut the hasp. He leaned closer. The musty wood frame was so damp he probably could just pry the hasp out of it.

But the hasp had already been cut. He looked at it for a moment, then put one palm against the edge of the door. Carefully, he pushed. It slid a few feet to the right with only the slightest grinding in the runner.

The scent of old grease reached his nose as he crouched, placing the bolt cutters on the tarmac. When he straightened again, his .45 caliber Kimber Tactical II was in his right hand.

He took a deep breath. Backup would be good. But you can’t call for backup when you’re working a case on the sly.

He gentled his index finger along the cool metal of the trigger well, then slipped in through the door.

Get the point?

Note that the setting in the second example was external to the warehouse. Still, it was focused down. Everything took place within a man-sized area just outside the warehouse door.

In the first example, the setting was actually larger, encompassing a few yards behind the POV character to several yards ahead of him. In it, as in the second example, the focus was created through the character’s physical senses.

Today’s Writing

No writing today, probably. I’m out in the boonies somewhere refilling my well of experience. And yep, still loving it. (grin)

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

I’m gonna leave up the numbers for ol’ Wes while my subconscious continues to turn the story over. If it doesn’t perk up and get with it pretty soon though, I’ll send Wes out behind the barn to think about what he’s done while I’m writing some other stuff.

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

2 thoughts on “The Journal, Saturday, 9/5”

  1. Super lesson Harvey. Good to be reminded again and again on importance of scene setting and the senses. Thanks.

    • Thanks Susan. The fact is, most writers use only the sense of sight. If you use all five senses (from the character) you will ground the reader in the scene immediately. And once you practice it a few times, writing this way becomes natural. Then you don’t have to be reminded. (grin)

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