Presentation on theme: "Dynamic Setting Shake up your scenework and wake up your readers Ron Edison IYWM 2014 1 Disclaimer “Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you."— Presentation transcript:
Dynamic Setting Shake up your scenework and wake up your readers Ron Edison IYWM Disclaimer “Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.” --Vonda M. McIntyre
Elements of Setting Locale Time of year Time of day Mood/atmosphere Climate Geography Social/political/cultural environment Era Personal history 2
Common Setting Problems Doesn't’ ground the reader Minimal setting Info dump Too many character names Pretty sentences that don’t relate to the story Doesn’t contribute to world building On the nose/formulaic Fails to identify gender, age, time of day, season Fails to ground reader when transitioning from scene to scene Namby-pamby “Parfait” 3
Principles of Dynamic Setting Details must matter to your story Readers are engaged by PEOPLE and EMOTION Make details work harder and smarter Ground readers in your reality Show behavior rather than describe appearance Anticipate reader needs (the five W’s) Write to prompt reader questions and intrigue “Just in time” detail (Kanban) “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” - Vonnegut
When to do this… Works best AFTER first draft when you know where the story is actually going. (Especially to reinforce theme.) For first drafts, highlight sections you want to dynamicize and go back later.
The Sins of Setting Explanations Backstory/flashback Block description Elmore Leonard’s Rules: Never open a book with weather. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Avoid Backstory and Flashback Earlier she had noticed a man standing outside on the sidewalk. She’d been living with her grandmother since her parents died in the same mysterious car crash that killed Grandpa Uses ‘had’ to move back and forth in story time. Slips reader out of immediacy of the scene. Dilutes tension, distracts.
Avoid Explanation Now she was home alone while Grandma played bingo at church. She was used to being alone at night, because she’d been living with her grandmother ever since her parents died… Watch for ‘because,’ ‘which’ – signs of imminent explanation.
Avoid Block Description 1 – Hear You Loud and Clear Punctually at six o’clock the sun set with a last yellow flash behind the Blue Mountains, a wave of violet shadow poured down Richmond Road, and the crickets and tree frogs in the fine gardens began to zing and tinkle. Apart from the background noise of the insects, the wide empty street was quiet. The wealthy owners of the big, withdrawn houses—the bank managers, company directors and top civil servants—had been home since five o’clock and they would be discussing the day with their wives or taking a shower and changing their clothes. In half an hour the street would come to life again with the cocktail traffic, but now this very superior half mile of “Rich Road,” as it was known to the tradesmen of Kingston, held nothing but the suspense of an empty stage and the heavy perfume of night-scented jasmine. -- Dr. No – Ian Fleming, 1958 Dated style - omniscient Slows pace Modern readers prefer action
Detail that Matters The man sat in a chair in his apartment, a plate of food on the table in front of him, wondering why she left him, the pain overwhelming Jacob sat on a spindly wooden chair, his bruised hands clenched in rage, hunched over the scarred oak table, the darkness seeping in the windows, a cold breeze rattling the window frames. He ignored the bottle of Jim Beam just out of reach, knowing in time it would be empty, her name echoing in his empty skull—Rebecca.
From Static to Dynamic 1 Joe left his home and went to the city. _________ Joe left his beach-side cottage and drove into Lake Forest City, a northern suburb of Seattle. _________ Joe stashed a duffle of essentials in the trunk of his ‘65 Beetle and drove to Lake Forest City, north of Seattle. Close enough to smell the coffee and get a whiff of culture but a comfortable distance from the snob zone.
From Static to Dynamic 2 As Liesel sat in the car she looked out the window at rain clouds but there was no rain Liesel felt cold and alone as the car drove down the street The day was grey, the color of Europe. Curtains were drawn around the car. Liesel made a clear circle on the dribbled glass and looked out. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Including Backstory Kevin felt isolated and lost growing up. He went to the University of Tucson and liked it for a while but then moved on But every town had been promising. Every place at first had said, Here you go—You can live here. You can rest here. You can fit. The enormous skies of the Southwest, the shadows that fell over the desert mountains, the innumerable cacti—red-tipped or yellow-blossomed, or flat-headed—all this had lightened him when he first moved to Tucson, taking hikes by himself, then with others from the university. Perhaps Tucson had been his favorite, had he been forced to choose—the stark difference between the open dustiness there and the ragged coastline here. – Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
Foreshadowing Determine the emotional tone of a scene or description before you write it. Merci drove out Modjeska Canyon through the leafless, quivering oaks, her hand tight on the wheel and her eyes fixed on the stripe that seemed to lap out of infinity at her. Black sky, black earth, black road. – Red Light, T. Jefferson Parker Grapevines, bare in their winter guise, lined the wall. In the moonlight they looked like a row of dead men, hanging arms spread wide and crucified on the frames that supported them. – Moon Called – Patricia Briggs
Foreshadowing Conflict 1 What Bobby was thinking now, watching the fortune- teller’s house, there could be a problem with her. He knew it without knowing the woman. Felt it looking at the house, the vegetation almost hiding it: an old melaleuca rotting inside itself, palmettos that had never been cut back growing wild across the front windows. A woman who lived alone in a house like that had problems. And a woman with problems, man, could make you have some of your own. – Riding the Rap – Elmore Leonard
Foreshadowing Conflict 2 The evening sky was streaked with purple. The color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary. The anti-capital-punishment crowd—priests, nuns in lay clothes, kids from LSU with burning candles cupped in their hands—were praying outside the fence. But another group was there too—a strange combination of frat boys and rednecks—drinking beer from Styrofoam coolers filled with cracked ice; they were singing “Glow, Little Glow Worm,” and holding signs that read THIS BUD IS FOR YOU, MASSINA AND JOHNNY, START YOUR OWN SIZZLER FRANCHISE TODAY. -- Neon Rain by James Lee Burke, 1987
Frame Story I guess my trouble started the usual way. I sold my soul to the Devil. For a guy. The wrong guy. I’ll give you a moment to finish laughing. I’m quite convinced that if you had seen this guy the same way I had seen this guy, then you would have done the same thing. After all, who can resist a six-foot-three, two- hundred-pound former college quarterback who needed rescuing from the arms of some harpyesque bimbo? I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Faustian as it may sound, deals with the Devil are nothing new in my family. We have a relatively healthy working relationship with His Evilness. We have a relatively healthy working relationship with His Holiness, too, it’s just that people rarely are as desperate to do good as they are try to try to get away with things. And that’s where we come in. My name is Lyndi. Although I do not come from a family of witches, that is the closest word you have for it. Pour Me Another – Jacki King
In Media Res Opening lines from Richard Stark’s Parker novels : When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man. ( Firebreak ) When he didn’t get any answer the second time he knocked, Parker kicked the door in. ( The Seventh ) Parker jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the packet of explosive in the other. ( Slayground ) Firebreak – Richard Stark
Summary Don’t make action or emotion separate from your setting. Show your protagonist interacting with the setting elements. Setting details you reveal must matter to your story. Use setting details to work harder and smarter. A well handled setting can impact your reader’s thoughts and move the story forward.
References Mary Buckham $2.99 ($4.99 for omnibus edition) Writing Active Setting Book 1: Characterization and Sensory Details. Writing Active Setting Book 2: Emotion, Conflict, and Back Story. Writing Active Setting Book 3: Anchoring, Action as a Character and More. Terrible Minds Terrible Minds blog: “25 Ways to Make Exposition Your Bitch” (Chuck Wendig) Skotos: “Writing Dynamic Settings” by Kimberly AppelclineWriting Dynamic Settings Storyville: Dynamic Settings “Who Cares about Settings?” Richard ThomasDynamic Settings Setting by Jack Bickham (Writer’s Digest)