By Joyce Shafer
You can provide scene setting through narrative, as well as dialogue. And you need to provide the setting each time characters shift from one scene to another. You never want to leave readers "wandering in the dark," with no idea where they, through the characters (or the non-
Here's a two-
I drove home at 5 p.m. and parked my pickup truck under the porte cochere attached to the shotgun house where Molly and I live in what is called the historical district of New Iberia. Our home is a modest one compared to the Victorian and antebellum structures that define most of East Main, but nonetheless it is a beautiful old place, built of cypress and oak, long and square in shape, like a boxcar, with high ceilings and windows, a small gallery and peaked tin roof, and ventilated green shutters that you can latch over the glass during hurricane season.
The flower beds are planted with azaleas, lilies, hibiscus, philodendron, and rosebushes in the sun and caladiums and hydrangeas in the shade. The yard is over an acre in size and covered with pecan trees, slash pine, and live oaks. The back of the property slopes down to the Teche, and late at night barges and tugboats with green and red running lights drone heavily through the drawbridge at Burke Street on their way to Morgan City. At early dawn there is often ground fog in the trees and on the bayou, and inside it you can sometimes hear a gator flopping or ducks wimpling the shallows.
Burke's setting gives you a good sense of his home and property and the neighbourhood. You can practically see the plants and trees-
Setting the scene also allows you to either play out a scene as it happens or summarize what happened, say, the previous night, rather than playing out the scene from the previous night. When this is done, it's important that whatever is conveyed moves the present story forward. Here's an example:
Mack's eyes opened. It took a few seconds for him to remember where he was-
Although the scene above wasn't played out in "real-
Time of day and days of the week are something most stories benefit from including as part of scene setting. We all relate to time and timing. The way to do this is to have a system for tracking these. You don't want to get confused or confuse readers about how much time has passed, or get so confused (or careless) that you mess it up and cause readers to think, "Hey, wait a minute." I've worked with clients who did not pay attention to time and timing, and even as the editor, I had no sense of when (time of day or time intervals) events happened. This can cause the writer to have a character go outside to get something from his car in the morning, which takes just a few minutes, and then suddenly it's nearly midnight, with no transition provided to justify the time leap. Hours disappear at random, not as part of the plot, but because the writer wasn't paying attention to the plot and timing thread.
Sometimes the simplest way to start to set a scene is to give the time of day or tell how much time as passed. Examples include:
Here's a three-
Robin slowed his Escort perhaps a half mile beyond this village. When he made a right turn, it was into a lane so narrow and overgrown that Barbara knew she would not have been able to distinguish it from the rest of the night-
They came to a break in the birches, and Robin turned into it, onto a track that jostled them over boulders and through ruts. The trees were thick here but shaped by generations of wind; they loomed over the track like sailors bending into a storm.
The track ended at a fence of wire and posts. To their right, an old rail gate hung at an angle like a listing boat, and it was to this gate that Robin led Barbara, after rooting through the Escort's boot and bringing out a torch, which he handed over to her. He himself took out a camping lantern, slinging it over his arm and saying, "It's just this way."
Look at how much is provided in this example above: the characters involved, the car they're riding in, distance, and lay of the land. When the driver makes turns, you make the turns as well. In your imagination, you create a narrow lane with potholes and ruts and overgrowth on both sides of the car. You know it's nighttime, and that they're in a remote area. When the lane rises, you can relate to what that feels and looks like. Re-
Can you see how, why, when, and how much setting may be necessary to make a fiction or non-
I wish you the best with your writing and progress.
Need a Book Doctor or an incentive to write or complete your manuscript? Let Joyce L. Shafer be your writing coach, developmental editor, or provide a critique. Details about her services at editmybookandmore.weebly.com/
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