Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How Emily Writes Settings

Tip of the Day: For those that are fast drafting sometimes it’s okay to give yourself permission to think about setting last. But just don’t forget to add it in eventually!

Kate talking more about the overall setting of the book yesterday, but today I’d like to talk about writing the setting for each individual scene.

For some people setting might come naturally. They might instantly write down descriptions like: the moss colored tree echoed in the moon light with a bird perched on the hallow branch ready to break with one peck.

But setting doesn’t come to me naturally (as I’m sure you can tell by the sentence above).

My novels tend to come in what I liked to call Around the Corner Movie Form. In that I can often hear them and see the scene blurred in the distance, but I can’t make out the setting until I listen first.

So in writing a book I almost always start each chapter with a series of dialogue exchanges. Most of it is rubbish and doesn’t make sense, but it allows me to play out the scene as I’m hearing it in my head.

After it’s out, I can make sense of it and then find a location that fits the book to place it.

Often once I’ve figure out the setting the entire dialogue no longer is usable and needs changed. Adding in the description to the setting is really hard for me. I have to take it one line at a time and think about what would be happening at this exact dialogue exchange. And even then I have to do some field work with the setting before I can picture it enough to describe it in book form.

This step involves some fieldwork and one of my favorite parts where I get to pretend I’m a police investigator, journalist, or archivist and searching through dusty old microfilms to find just the right clue (Don’t you guys love those scenes in movies? Or is that just me?) At this stage, I borrow a ton of books from the library. Stuff on the city, location, state, or a certain scene (such as a theme park, camp, etc). I also go through images online (Wikipedia is my BFF), in magazines, and then combine images to form the one I want, until I get an idea of what things look like.

After I have an image only then can I add in description, almost like adding setting cues to a screenplay.

And unfortunately I’m still not quite done. This is the stage where I curse the writing gods for not blessing me with the ability to combine setting, dialogue, and characters into something more cohesive in a first draft.

Not until I do another draft does the setting cues and dialogue really shape into Book Form, when I take out all the Stage Cues (as Deena likes to call them and has to remind me constantly to take out even when the draft is to a stage I feel critique partners can look at) of I did A, then B, then C, then D (which hello, she is correct that’s really boring). So after that I fix and try to make the setting flow more naturally instead of feeling as if it’s a scrapbook project gone wrong with bits and pieces pasted in crooked and upside down.

So as you can see setting really is not easy for me. So I advise you listen to the other A2A Misses for much better advice.

But if you are like me and trying to find a way to work, I guess the layered version works for me. And with each book I write, I find I’m better and better at writing setting and description into the first draft. So I guess practice really does make it easier.

Additional Setting Tips:
  • Try to incorporate setting into the dialogue. Don’t make it obvious it’s for the reader, but incorporating the setting into the dialogue helps to show it with more impact and in with the action, which in turn makes it come alive more.
  • I once read a quote that said something like back in the 1800s books had to have a lot of descriptions because people didn’t travel much and didn’t know a lot about the places outside where they lived and wanted details. But now a days, a few carefully, placed descriptions will give your readers all they need to know. I love to think about that when doing settings.

--Emily, Miss Querylicious

JaNoWriMo Writing Challenge:

10423 / 50000 words. 21% done!


amuse me said...

Hey -- I'm keeping track of your word count. 21% already. That's great!

Emily Marshall said...

Thanks Marion. I have been working really hard on that count. But I did cheat alittle, reusing old stuff significantly (but I knew I was going to cheat, so it's okay).


DeenaML said...

Your word count rocks!

You also have great setting for CG, with the mansion and guest house. You are doing something right for sure! :)

Kate Fall said...

How did people write before Wikipedia? I can't even imagine.

You're all doing so great with your word counts! Did you see Christy's in the comments yesterday? 10,000! Congratulations!

Emily Marshall said...

Thanks Deena! The setting for my MG Mystery was my favorite so far. It practically wrote itself, so I guess picking one that really works for the book makes it easier to.

And Kate, I have no idea how I functioned before I used the Internet everyday in general, let alone just Wikipedia. And you are doing really good with your words too. I hardly wrote anything yesterday and stayed up till 7 this morning reading (I know I'm a huge book nerd), so I don't think I'm going to be too wide awake after work to get much done tonight. So I'm glad I'm ahead of schedule.