Thursday, September 10, 2015

PNWA 2015 Workshop Review #1: Writing Active Settings

(Image from:  The Last Dog)
Well it's been nearly two months since I attended PNWA's Summer Conference. This year's intense fire season forced me to jump around on few reviews I've posted so far like Quentin Tarantino directing a film.
I've just now managed to sit down, read my notes and look back at the first workshop I attended at the conference: Writing Active Setting by Mary Buckham.  This seminar was gleaned from tidbits of her Writing Active Setting Series.
However, Miss Buckham explained there are two issues with setting:
1. You have none whatsoever that helps orient the reader, or
2. You have too much, which stops the story flow
(Image from:  How Much Detail is Too Much Detail in Relationship)
Use an Active Setting to:
Show characterization
Show sensory detail
Show emotion
Foreshadow complications, or develop conflict
Show backstory
Orient the reader
Impact the pacing of an action sequence
Show it as a character in the story, or when place matters
Miss Beckham cited some recommendations found in Dwight V Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer about crafting a setting:
Your reader has never been there
It's a sensory world
It's a subjective world
(A slight case of Author Intrusion occurs if a setting is described the same way by two different characters)
The details must matter, however don't focus your reader on something that's not pertinent to the story.
The Big Question was:  How do you initially show the setting in a scene?

Mary Buckham's rule of thumb:

With the first few paragraphs of a new scene, chapter, or change of location.  The questions of "where?" and "what time of day?" need to be answered.

She then went through her "...down and dirty ways to take your setting from blah to vital..." (Conference Guidebook, pg. 9).

Which were:

(Image from:  TV Tropes/City Noir)

Setting to show characterization

The same setting will be described differently by different characters.  (During the workshop an example of Secret Service Agent, and a mom on an outing with her family were used).
Readers will have very little context without character input/observations.
Filter through one character's experience at a time--no rapid head-hopping.
However, don't stop the story flow, unless the place reveals something.

Setting to show sensory detail

This is an underrated took in the writer's tool kit. 
Use more than just sight to describe a setting, but you don't have to include all 5 senses.

Setting to show emotion

Emotion is determined by your word choices and what you focus the reader on.
Setting can create mood and mood can drive action.
There can be an emotional change in the scene, which can make it easier for the reader to accept what unfolds in the story.

Setting to create complications

(Apparently, this concept was so complicated I didn't write any detailed notes, or examples about it).

Setting to show backstory

Orients the reader to the where and when of the story.
The reader assumes there's more information on the page than is really there.

Setting in an action sequence

Words of warning here:  Be wary of writing more about the setting than the story can handle.  Only a few words of description are needed.  Once again--don't slow the pacing and describe too much detail.

Setting as a character in the story

The Old Man and the Sea, The Perfect Storm were examples used to show how the environment was an essential character. 
Know your genre!
Be conscious of your story and it's needs.
Stop thinking of setting as simply a way to show where the reader is, but a rich medium to show (not tell) and to thread-in backstory, or emotion to deepen the conflict, and above all, to draw the reader deeper into your story.

Adding color to a setting

Great settings accomplish "double and triple duty."  That is, they add sensory detail, characterization, conflict, and back story.


Creating an describing a great setting can be an asset in capturing the reader's imagination. 

Which is the primary goal of good story telling.

(Image from: What She Said Marketing, The Art of Storytelling)

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