Tag Archive - setting

Masterful Setting Description Part 3

Masterful setting description teaches us an important lesson: writers need to take the time to paint enough of a sensory-rich picture in order for readers to feel they are there—or at very least, get a glimpse of how the setting feels and looks to the POV character.

As we’ve discussed in many of these posts on masterful description, all details presented in description is the POV character’s observation. When you are in POV and you describe a tree, you are not giving dry statistics about that tree; you are sharing what that character notices when looking at that tree. And the way that tree is described has to

  1. fit the character’s personality, vocabulary, background, and education (you can’t have an educated character describe the tree the way a botanist would);
  2. fit the character’s mood at that moment (the choice of phrasing and adjectives, as well as the aspects of the tree noticed, has to reveal, mirror, or imply the mind-set);
  3. and help set the tone of the scene.

That description could do much more than what I stated above. It could act as a metaphor in some way, or a motif. Spindly bare arms could signify bareness, for example, and while the character may not be standing in front of the tree thinking, “Gee, this tree is like me: barren,” you could masterfully describe the tree in a way that the reader gets the subtext, the unspoken thoughts, that are often more powerful than the outward descriptions. Continue Reading…

Masterful Setting Description Part 2

Setting description in most novels is the weakest element. As with character description, many writers don’t want to bother describing the setting. Or they don’t understand how vitally important it is, in order to paint a sensory picture of where characters are so that readers can feel as if they are right there with them, experiencing the action alongside them.

That’s hard to do if there is no setting; in many scenes I critique, the characters seem to be floating in a black void of nothingness. Which would be fine if that were the intent of the author. But, sad to say, the writer is probably assuming her readers are picturing the setting via some ESP into the author’s mind.

Probably the most prevalent reason for not writing great setting description is the author doesn’t know how. And yet . . . there are countless novels with beautiful setting descriptions. The whole key to becoming a masterful writer is to study masters of writing. And that’s what we’ve been doing in this series. Continue Reading…

A Look at Masterful Setting Description

Masterful writing must seep into every corner of a novel. We looked briefly at the description of characters in the last few posts, mostly drawing from just one novel of James Lee Burke’s. I could easily write a year’s posts highlighting masterful writing from any one of his novels. And in the series, I’ll be pulling more examples from his books.

When we talk about description, we’re covering wide territory. Narrative is, essentially, description, and via narrative we describe characters, setting, situations, and insights.

As we saw in those examples from Burke’s novel Wayfaring Stranger, description limited to merely physical components only goes so far to shine a light on the POV character’s personality. Every bit of narrative description needs to be purposeful in order to be masterful.

Yes, what a character notices about another’s hairstyle or clothing can bring out the POV character’s tastes and opinions, but there is so much more that great description can accomplish, and few writers think carefully about how to wield description in a powerful way.

When description is discussed, usually character and setting are the two most obvious novel components of concern. Every time your POV character moves into a new space—walks out a door into the outdoors, enters a building—some description is needed. Continue Reading…

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