Friday, April 2, 2010

Me on Setting

Sometimes it’s hard for me to describe the setting of a scene when I write. I can see where the characters are in my head, and I can write what they’re thinking, saying, and doing, but describing their location is often an afterthought. I forget that not everyone can see all the little details I can see in my head.

In regards to my workshop assignment (my current WIP), I imagine not everyone saw the posters taped to the walls inside the school, the papers tacked to the cork board of the classroom, and the grey clouds, heavy with rain, hanging in the air outside the building.

Writing a descriptive paragraph, or paragraphs, isn’t hard, but I have issues in terms of selecting geographic locations as my setting. It’s difficult writing about a place I haven’t been to before, and so when I have to guess it feels awkward in my head. I tried setting a novel I wrote in 2006 in Dublin, Ireland, but I had to guess a lot in terms of building size and street layout because I hadn’t ever been there. I actually made it to Ireland in 2008, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. Of course, I probably should’ve looked online for pictures of the city, but at the time, that never crossed my mind.

At a writers’ conference last October, I overheard two women talking about one woman’s manuscript. She had set half the novel in the US and half in Thailand, but she’d never been to Thailand. When she pitched the manuscript to a literary agent the year before, the agent asked if she’d been to Thailand, and the woman said she was going in a few months. When she returned from the trip, she rewrote almost everything and set the entire novel in Thailand.

I think you have to have been where you set any piece of writing, whether it be an apartment, a house, a farm, or a different country. Unless you’ve seen the buildings and smelled the air of the location, you can’t describe it accurately enough when you establish setting.

happy Easter weekend. enjoy the chocolate.

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