Monday, June 04, 2007

Description: Location, Location, Location

Location, location, location. It's not just the be-all, end-all component of real estate. It’s what authors need to describe to their readers so that readers can imagine the scene. A lot of the stories I've read lately have been very heavy in dialogue. That's fine when readers are anchored in the scene with the characters and care about what happens to them, but readers need a sense of the world in which these characters are inhabiting to feel close enough to them so that they want to follow these characters on their journey. Readers need to be able to picture where they are and what's going on in each scene. It's fun to fill in the blanks for the author on some of the details, but readers need to be provided enough description to imagine the scene in their minds.

Some authors may feel that description is more of a telling than a showing. However, descriptions of places (and characters) are not telling. Readers need to be tossed descriptions of places and characters if they're going to know what they look like. Descriptions of the locale and the characters in a scene entrench readers into your story. Describe what the scene looks like so that readers are there in the scene. Provide only what needs to be described at that point in your characters' lives so that the story continues to move forward. Do this and it will become kind of a Zen thing: Readers will become one with your story.

A paragraph of description early in the scene embeds your reader in that scene. Readers are tethered to the location of the scene with the characters. Provide some description in every scene and again when the location changes within the same scene.

Let your readers know what's going on in each scene. By telling them a description, you're actually showing them your characters' world.


Blogger Melissa Marsh said...

Absolutely, Diane. Setting is crucial and there are a lot of authors who skim this particular part of the story. I wonder if it is a failure on their part to do the proper research? That makes no sense in this day and age - especially if you're writing a contemporary novel -because with the internet, you can "visti" just about any place in the world and get a good sense of what it looks like.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Diana Celesky said...

I don't know if it's a lack of research or that programming writers get drilled into their heads in classes and seminars to show, don't tell. I think writers go a little too far in that vein sometimes. Sometimes the storytelling feels a little too clinical. I don't know who came up with that show-don't-tell theory, but our ancestors sitting around in caves were TELLING stories, not showing them.

I'm with you, Melissa, in that the Internet has provided a wealth of research opportunities for writers. It's easy to get photographs of just about any place on the planet.

I love so many of the old classics, like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, in large part because of all the description provided. I feel like I'm there in the story. At least five pages of GONE WITH THE WIND talk about Rhett Butler before he enters his first scene. The story still moves forward, even with backstory included in the description. I wish more writers would opt for more detail like that in their stories. When backstory always comes through in dialogue, it seems too contrived. As long as the reader is still in your story, it's moving the story forward.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Babe King said...

Absolutely true. I have 2 stories set in outback Australia that several editors/agents have rejected and awarded second place in competitions etc, because of the setting. I've been told in so many words, love the story and characters, but Australia is a hard sell right now. Try NYC, Tuscany or Paris. So my latest MS is set in NYC. LOTS of research. Oi.

4:01 AM  
Blogger Diana Celesky said...

Hi Babe,

Would it be feasible to take your other two stories and revise them so they're set in NYC? Since you've already been doing research on NYC for your other work, it would be nice to see the other two get picked up sooner, rather than later. Still, what goes around comes around, so I'm sure Australia will be a hot literary property, too, and you can get them sold then. Best wishes to you in getting all three manuscripts sold.

2:53 PM  

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