Wednesday, 1 February 2012

How to Set the Perfect Scene

In the book The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman explains the importance of setting a scene. Setting is an area some writers struggle with because it's one of the more subtle areas of writing. I also find this issue a hard one to tackle. But this year I am determined to work on it.

So if you're a writer like me who sometimes struggles with this area, here are some tips that Lukeman gives on perfecting that setting.

Some books start with a burst of dialogue between two main characters. The writer is keen to make the plot of the book known to the reader as soon as possible. And yet while they are so focused on the storyline, sometimes they forget to include little else.

Even established writers can get away with offering limited setting as long as they have a gripping storyline. But setting, when used properly, can give a book great depth. Take for a example a conversation between two people. In one setting they are in a cosy living room with a burning log fire listening to the raging wind outside. In the other, they are in a mortuary inspecting bodies.

The writer at this stage doesn't mention what the conversation is about. But the reader imagines two entirely different conversations because of the setting. It might be exactly the same conversation word for word but because one scene is in a relaxed setting, the reader imagines the characters are having a social chat. In the other they might be in that place for work. They might be police officers investigating a murder or pathologists doing a normal days work.

A writer can say so much about a story all without saying one word, it just depends how they set the scene.

Lukeman says most settings set a picture in the readers mind by stating the smallest of details. A cracked window, carpet stains and a cobweb in the corner are just three of the vivid details he states a writer can use to bring a scene to life. You only need to mention a few things about the place otherwise you risk information overload which is equally damaging for the reader. Most people can only remember a few things at a time. I think this thought process is why I end up with some of my scenes barely even there. I want to focus on moving the story forwards and I find too much descriptive detail can really slow things down.

Lukeman also advises that all five senses should be used when bringing a setting to life. You can describe an area smelling like coal fire and the reader will be able to imagine this instantly. How about the sound of a school whistle, or describe a room that is dimly lit as opposed to one that is brightly lit.

The weather is also a great way to bring some atmosphere into the scene. Describing a thunderstorm accompanied by a raging wind immediately sets an eerie atmosphere. A bright, cloudless sunny day depicts a happy image with the reader and yet the same story could be taking place within each scene.

Above all else, remember to have your characters interact with their setting. Have one pick up a red umbrella that's sitting in the corner of the porch. Or a character could pick up a plate and hurl it on the floor.

So, how do you set your scenes? Have you any more tips you'd like to share?

2 comments:

  1. Great information, and yes, it is easy to forget the value of setting the scene - I tend to get so involved with my characters. I'm going to go check my current writing to see if I set the scene! Thank you for the great post.

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  2. No problem, you're very welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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