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Setting the scene/environment:

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(What I think is) A problem I have often in my writing is that I fail to establish the setting that the characters are physically in, and end up with voices on featureless planes. Also, the majority of words in a conversation scene seem to be just dialogue, with maybe a sentence or two every so often describing the characters actually doing things. This makes me think of the acting of a high school play, aimlessly standing around and reciting the lines tonelessly, whereas I'd like to establish that the characters actually have body language and spatial relationships between them.

Does anyone here have any suggestions for how to fix that, other than just focusing on it more? I'm not sure how much of this is actually a problem, and how much is just the fact that visual storytelling (which I seem to be using a bit too much) doesn't translate into literature.

(If RL doesn't take up too much time, I might be able to write something to show you what I mean, but I'm not sure how long that'll take, so don't wait for it.)

Thanks in

edited 18th Mar '12 4:43:08 PM by Yej

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 2 Te Chameleon, Sun, 18th Mar '12 4:56:01 PM from Alberta, Canada
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Simple trick that you could borrow from actual Visual Storytelling (aka comics) is the Establishing Shot- describe the setting in some detail, and then you don't have to go into it as much when the characters are moving through it. If it's a larger area and they'll be moving quickly, try and paint a word picture of that area, so that people have some inkling of what, say, a typical room or street or whatever in the city your characters are in would be like, so you can just toss off a quick descriptor of them moving from the pool hall to the back room to the alley out back rather than needing to bog down the firefight with detailed scene descriptions.

Just be careful you don't fall victim too strongly to The Law of Conservation of Detail, or your readers will know exactly where the characters are going tongue

The Man With No Name
Don't out right explain the setting in a simple passage. As the characters speak to one each other, describe their actions. You can use descriptions of their actions to set the tone of place which can add a lot to the setting as well. You can also use things in the room to describe the characters' actions.

Personally, in my stories, I don't even write dialogue, but basically sum it up in the main character's head. Instead of one line that goes "hello" she said. You can have the main character think, 'she greeted me at the door'.

 4 Te Chameleon, Sun, 18th Mar '12 5:24:55 PM from Alberta, Canada
Irritable Reptilian
See, that's something I think is a stylistic thing; I have a strong preference for a straight establishing shot- something to set the mood of the area- before I start mucking about with character actions. Might be because of my desire to write comics rather than straight prose, but even in my words-without-pictures work, I trend towards it.

 5 Loni Jay, Sun, 18th Mar '12 5:59:38 PM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
I tend towards that myself - usually, a character will enter a room, and as they see it I describe it in broad strokes (or maybe not so broad, if they're in the mood to be noticing stuff).

It's a bit tougher when a scene starts with them already in a setting, and it that case I usually describe it after a few lines of dialogue have gone past.
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The Puzzler
Some suggestions:

Put only as much focus on a scene as the character does. For example if you were to describe me right now you would mention about the bright light of my laptop screen and the rocking chair I am on, because that is what I'm focused on.*

Also allow the descriptions to show what the character feels about a certain place.
So now I know that my lack of success in college is due to ADD — or sleep apnea. I need to do a sleep study some time.
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@Lynx, I think that's what I've been trying and failing to do, possibly because it's very hard to build on no foundation.

[up] I've usually tried to do that when it's applicable, but I also end up writing scenes where the narrator is supposed to be "omniscient" (and so doesn't have particular investment or viewpoint on the scene) or in one current case, isn't in the scene he is describing. (Because he's describing the contents of a video) Am I doing something wrong here, or should I do it differently when the narrator "doesn't care"?
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I'm not sure that establishing a setting or describing the character's actions are as important as establishing a sense of purpose. It doesn't do the readers much good to know what room the characters are or where every piece of furniture is in that room, unless they understand why the character is in that room and why knowing where all the furniture is is important. It doesn't do any good to have the characters do things between lines of dialogue if there is no clear purpose as to why they are doing those actions.

Readers want to know what the characters are doing, and intending to do, and establishing place and actions is important, but only when they relate to the character's purpose. Even if you're using an omniscient point of view, it will still be helpful to focus in on the details that relate to things important to the characters.

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Total posts: 8

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