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You have questions. Writer stuff, marketing, motivation, you name it.
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Many people helped me when I was starting out because I was willing to ask what I needed to know.
That shortened my learning curve substantially.
– Dan Alatorre
4 thoughts on “You have questions. Ask away.”
Hi! Good morning. What tips do you have for incorporating setting into a story?
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I recently did a presentation on this, so forgive me if I am a little long-winded.
Setting is often where people screw up their stories. They go on and on and on about something like a two-story split-level ranch home that’s yellow with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths… In front comes a 2017 red four-door Jeep Wrangler…
And if the reader is still awake, they are getting ready to put the book down and see about that root canal surgery they have been putting off.
You want your reader to discover your setting the way your character does.
That means if you are very familiar with your house, when you walk from your bedroom to the kitchen to get your car keys, you do not describe everything along the way to yourself.
However, the first time you set foot at the terminal in Venice Italy and you stand on the Piazza and gaze over the liquid streets running between ancient buildings like a living picture postcard, if your character is in awe, you should act that way in your story. Let the reader share the moment with the character.
So usually new authors describe too much about the setting, and frankly that signals that the rest of the story might be uninteresting.
Here’s what you do to get around that.
You write whatever you have to write about that two-story split-level yellow ranch house – if the murder suspect is known to be hiding in a yellow split-level ranchHouse. You write about the red four-door Jeep Wrangler – if the bank robber was seen fleeing the scene in a four-door red Jeep Wrangler. But if it’s your main character going to work in downtown Atlanta, then the car is completely unimportant and you just say he got in his car.
But what else you do is this:
You write, write, write as much detail about these different things (like the jeep and split-level ranch house) as you need to, but you don’t put it in the story. It’s a bucket of paint that you set aside after you write it and you only dip in it when necessary.
So when your guy goes to Venice, you might use a paragraph or two interspersed with some beats that show him walking down the steps with his mouth agape, and his wife and daughter gazing around as you give lots and lots of details about the ancient city.
Later on when he goes out and it’s raining, you might introduce another brush stroke or two from that paint bucket.
Most authors who are new and inexperienced end up dumping all this information about the setting all at once when what they need to do is not try to force feed the information to the reader reader but let the reader nibble on it a little at a time as it would unfold in the story.
Less is more.
And then you do the hardest part.
You send it to a trusted critique partner who tells you to cut 50% of it because it’s boring – and you cut the 50%.
And if your beta readers tell you another 50% needs to be cut after that, you seriously consider cutting some more.
And after a while you figure out what the bare-bones really is – and that’s what you go with to properly convey setting in your story, Goldilocks. To make it not too much, not too little, but just right. It’s a skill that takes time to develop and most people err on the side of giving too much at first. So find a trusted critique partner and a good group a beta readers and tell them to be honest – and then listen to what they tell you!
One last tip.
Let your story rest.
After you are done with a chapter, try to avoid reading it for a few days or a week. The longer the better. If you do, your eyes will readjust and you will see some mistakes, and that’s always good, but you will find yourself when you are done with your book and rereading it, that letting the book rest will cause you to want to skip over certain parts. Aha. Highlight those. Often they will be big boring info dumps.
Anything you want to skip in your story, highlight in yellow. Anything you absolutely love your story, highlight in green. Stuff that you do skip, highlight in pink or red.
All you are doing is forcing yourself to clean the thing up before you send it to the critique partner.
That’s harder to do than you think, but it’s even harder when the critique partner says cut a lot of the lines in one of your favorite paragraphs where you are going on and on about the yellow split-level ranch.
But if you want to keep the critic partner, you’ll learn to take boring stuff out before the critic partner gets it.
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Thank you, that was very helpful. 🙂
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Of course. My pleasure.