Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How I Write...Setting (or Think about the place where you live, wonder why you haven't before*)

*With apologies to REM

Tip of the Day: To get your JanNoWriMo count up, don't let yourself have a caffeine break til you reach 500 more words. My current JanNoWriMo count: 10000 words

Welcome to Day 3 of How I Write...SETTING! After pondering this for some time, I can say this about my procedure and thought process...

1. I wonder what kind of place would make my MC act the way she does,

2. Then I picture myself in that place almost like I'm following the character around her world. [Note: More often than not, this place is very similar to the city I currently live in or he small town I grew up in. Varying up my settings is something I'm working on.]

3. Next I pick out which details of the MC's world are unique and interesting,

4. And as I start writing, I integrate these details into the characters' actions to avoid info-dumping of setting details. [Note: Sometimes I don't give as many details as my reader wants. Adding the right amount of setting details is something I'm working on.]

5. I also try to switch up the settings of each chapter to keep things interesting (move the MC from her house to the diner to the bus)

6. And to keep cliched/tired settings almost completely out of the book (convos in front of lockers are OK for a very brief period only).

7. As I revise, I keep an eye out for places where my MC is "floating in space"

8. And as I get feedback from my CPs, I make sure to address the areas that they say need some more setting details.

That's about it! Here's a sample from my MG, SOMETHING STRANGE ON STAFF ROAD that has a quality bit of setting for your perusal:

The house was freshly painted white. In fact, all eight houses were bright white, like rows of teeth pushing out of the bright green grass. I’d asked Dad if we could repaint our whole house pink, and he said no, Dr. Meyer had made it clear that there were to be no changes to our houses or yards. They were all to look the same.

To be honest, setting is not one of my strong points -- though I didn't know that til about 18 months ago. Yeah, I thought I was putting the right details and cues on paper without bogging the reader down with mundane details that didn't move the story forward. I mean, I could see the setting SO CLEARLY in my head as I wrote, of COURSE I was conveying it perfectly on the page.

Then I had a fantastic 15-minute critique session with the fantastic Laurie Halse Anderson at an SCBWI conference last fall. She'd read the first chapter or so of this MG novel and said that while she could tell that I knew the setting exactly in my head, she wasn't seeing it in hers.


To make it more clear to me, she put notes in my pages indicating places where she wanted to see/smell/hear/touch more of what was around the MC. Again, not a big info-dump of a description, but just a few more gems sprinkled throughout to give the whole chapter a more tangible feel.

Oh. OH!

The revision I did of my MG after that critique helped me land my agent and I know LHA's wise words helped me out. (She also pointed it out to me in the most gracious of ways. Thank you, Laurie!)

Setting is something I'm hyper-aware of now -- if not during my first drafts than definitely during revisions -- and I'm glad! I love losing myself in the worlds created in others' work and want people to do the same when reading mine. So I will continue to add more details than I find necessary in the hopes that they will be just enough to satisfy my readers.

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Kate Fall said...

What I liked about your sample is that it doesn't just describe the setting, it shows how the MC feels about it. I try to remember that, too. Our characters get to react to their settings.

Emily Marshall said...

Excellent thoughts and examples Deena! I'm trying to be more aware of my setting. I should have thought to mention this in my post, but I think sometimes I'm so worried about having a different setting in each scene that I forget about the overall picture the setting needs to create to give a good "feel" to the novel and someplace the reader can orientate themselves again (such as a favorite hangout, interesting room, or something like that).

Lisa Schroeder said...

Wow, great list, Deena!

I struggle with details, which is one of the reasons why I'll admit I like writing in verse sometimes, because there isn't as much description, obviously. :)

Kristina Springer said...

Cool to see your process and I like the example! Also, some of my best conversations (the memorable ones) in high school were in front of those school lockers! :-)

DeenaML said...

I know, locker conversations happen all the time in real life! But I try to vary it up and put the characters in the caf, or the quad, or hiding behind the school....

Megan said...

I really liked this post. I never delve into the setting as much as I should, except for mentioning that the characters are in a hallway or a classroom.

Marcia said...

Fantastic example. I like how LHA zeroed in on sensory detail. It's so easy to not think beyond sight, or rely on adjectives and adverbs.

Christina Farley said...

Thank you! I needed to hear all that. Great reminders. And I loved your clip from your MG- NICE!