Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tibet and the Free the Goat Rally and other things about Setting

Quote of the Week:
Invention, my dear friends, is ninety-three percent perspiration,
six percent electricity, four percent evaporation,
and two percent butterscotch ripple.
~Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
(Not the new movie...the older, better one)
~Roald Dahl

Currently on my IPOD:
Strange Meadowlark:

Dave Brubeck

Current Weather:
Spring like weather followed by disappointing
transgressions of multi-system manuscript failure.

Dear Friends, Family and My Family of Friends and Pretty Much Everyone Else,

I've decided two things. First, California is beautiful, but WAY too expensive. Second, I really think that the Burger King and Starbucks and every other restaurant in the airport system needs to get a serious reality check on their pricing. Not that I was going to eat the Burger King. It always has the power to land mein the hospital with serious gut problems when I eat there. But a whopper with cheese meal, not super-sized or open heart surgery portions, 10.75 in LAX Int'l Airport. One espresso triple shot mocha, with no whip, grande size...6.50. Come on people...don't be ridiculous. So, I had a small cup of water and waited patiently for the plane to arrive.

Okay, onto the story. You're done with the backstory. As in you've placed it in a different file for later, right. Of course. I know you don't want a lecture on it...As a matter of fact, we talked about openings last week, this week, we're going to delve into setting. The scene. The Where of the Who, What and Why...and of course, When. Without a scene, or shall I say, proper scene what do you have? Nothing. Jack crap. Nadda, Zip, Zilch.

Let's take Moby Dick. There would be absolutely nothing. For without the scene you would have a whale and a man and a boat, actually, not the boat, unless you are of the school of thought that the vessel itself was a character, and then I believe that it wouldn't be Melville writing the story, but maybe Kafka. Call me Ishmael, I am a whale... Hey that rhymes. Kudo's to me..

Anyway, your scene is of the utmost importance. It gives your reader something to grab onto. Somewhere they may or may not know. Which can have the power of transporting the reader into a wonderful place or a place like Hell.

Think about what a movie does for you. Take the opening scene in The Hours. We have Virginia Woolfe in post WWI England Countryside. Probably Spring, most definitely wonderful. Sets up the whole story. Well, until you get past the opening credits. Then the setting is jarringly moved to New York City Present Day. And after another few minutes, we have post WWII Southern California suburbs. Now we've really got the big picture. Not only does each of these settings provoke a whole different set of moral values in society, but it also gives light into the characters education backgrounds, their upbringing, their personal histories and their reactions to events that take place in the story which will also bring out the theme of the story. In turn, this makes setting an utmost necessary part of the plot and our characters. Now take this movie device of setting up the scene while introducing characters and apply it to your novel. Have a running movie version of your book in your head. Seriously, it works. This is why I like to write to movie soundtracks.

Regardless, your setting should create a world of its own, but in the most accurate way possible. Even if you are writing about Napoleon, you should be describing France to the detail when he reigned and not the France that we know now. If you are creating a novel that is Sci-fi or Fantasy, then your world doesn't have to be accurate to history, but it needs to be accurate to its own history.

Otherwise...it needs to be accurate and consistent throughout the story. If you have the story taking place in post WWIII Cleveland, please do not have tropical plants sprouting up from the ground in one chapter and then the next chapter have it barren and with no vegetation for the last century. Yeah, we're on to you...

Also your setting should evoke emotion. The setting of any place has emotion. Your mom's kitchen as she made brownies when you got home from school. Your college roomate's kitchen as he was making brownies for the party later that night. The first time you burnt eggs and bacon in your apartment, the first time you went to the beach and experienced the ocean, the first time you smelled sulfur after you visited the seventh level of hell...Get it? Each smell, sound, sight, taste, it all evokes some kind of emotion and memory and it is ALL a part of the setting and characterization and plot... Do this the right way in your story and you have drawn the reader in by giving them something to hold onto. Some kind of memory that they can take from their own and make the book all the more personal is a good thing, a very good thing.

Also the setting should provoke understanding in the reader. If you start out with, It was a dark and stormy night and then proceed to write the remake of The Sound of Music, then you've lost your reader. But if you start out with a naive' young woman, dancing among the top of some kind of mountain, waving her arms and singing as she strolls through the freshly bloomed flowers, then you got something entirely different.

The Setting can also give away what kind of character you are dealing with without saying a thing. You're writing about a widowed man with four kids...enter in the house. As a matter of fact, I might describe the house first. Are there pictures on the fridge from his daughter in Kindergarten, are there dustbunnies around every single corner, or is everything neat and tidy to a fault? What do the kids rooms look like? Are they neat and tidy or in the boys room is there porn posters plastered all over the walls and the eldest girl's room has scantily clad posters of New Kids on the Block? Or do the brother and sister say their prayers every night, while kneeling at the bedside where their mother used to kneel?

There are lots of different settings/scenes that could come from this scenario. But it is up to you as the writer to make it vivid, memorable and real to the reader. And don't get me wrong, this is no easy task. Make your setting a character, give it life, and as much importance as you do all of your characters. Your story will be stronger for it, I promise.

As the quote at the top of my page relays, genuis and inventiveness is hard work. And in order for you to pull off your story properly, you must work very hard at it. Take every line, every thought from your characters and every scene and apply the proper setting everytime and your story will come into its own...

I hope each of you have a great week. Don't forget to check out the writers retreat I am hosting in Vail this coming October. It will be held from the 17th-21rst. And this is a self guided retreat with MS consultation. Not a conference, just somewhere to be with like minded souls, in beautiful surroundings and working on your project. Space is limited. You can check out the site here: Writing Away Retreats.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Yours in Settings, Showing--Not Telling and Some Other Place,



bookfraud said...

i appreciate your thoughts on scene setting, especially the part about accuracy. all too often i see narratives that feature worlds that lack their own internal logic, or that don't make the effort to create a world within itself.

like you say, without a scene, you got zilch. zip. bubkus.

and without a scene that hews to the world at large or the world it creates, fuggitaboutit.

nice site (in both senses of the word) for your retreat. i would love to go, except i have the small matter of a 10-month-old boy.

Travis Erwin said...

Don't blame the Whopper, becasue no offense I think a good stiff breze lands you in the hospital. :)

Chancelucky said...

thanks for your kind comment on my blog...If you want to talk about the Summerset Review, by the way Joe Levens was very easy to work with, feel free to e-mail me. My e-mail address is in my blogger profile.