Why is it important?
Mary Buckham, USA Today Bestselling author recently presented WRITING ACTIVE SETTING for David Farland’s mentoring group, Apex-Writers. It is an important element of story and one that oftentimes is employed too little and sometimes too much. But why is it important? How does one give just enough?
There is a mindset that descriptions are those places that a reader is going to skip so why go deep into it anyway. However, according to David Farland in his Writing Tip “How to Use Emotions to Create Stronger Descriptions and Setting”
“The truth is good descriptions aren’t boring or tedious — instead, they build tension and reveal character depth with seamless grace. In fact, the best descriptions will paint a picture in your mind so visceral you’ll swear you’re standing next to the characters. The key? Like everything else, you want your descriptions to connect with readers on a human level.” -David Farland
Why is this?
Well for one, we live in a sensory world. Setting helps us to paint the mood and the sense of who the character is. What is important to them. And what’s going on around and inside them. How they interact with their setting also provides characterization.
You’ll have a different sense of one character running into a dilapidated two-story house with broken black shutters and cobwebs hanging from a dark room so they can light candles from an iron wrought candelabra than another character skipping in a pine forest with pine cones crunching under her feet and the sound of a babbly brook in the distance.
Setting as Characters
Setting often times can be characters onto themselves. Consider how different the story would be for the Chronicles of Narnia without Narnia, or Harry Potter without Hogwarts, or Lord of the Rings without Middle Earth. They’d be different stories. In these three examples, you can also see the changes in settings in times of battle and peace, making the settings dynamic… almost having an arc themselves.
Settings can give you rich sources of symbolism and metaphor. Think of settings that can symbolize hope versus the decline of a character’s mental state. Setting elements easily can be used to reinforce themes and emotions giving your stories more depth and resonance.
One of the most important and basic reasons? Having active setting gives you the opportunity to show instead of tell and that makes your scenes active and brings them to life.
If you’re asking how do you make sure you don’t have too much description in setting, the answer is you certainly don’t want to have pages of just description like they had a century or so ago.
The better way to go is by weaving your character’s internal and external activities, thoughts and dialogue to make your story come alive. After all, your reader will turn pages if they are experiencing your story like they ARE your character. And that’s what we want for our readers… To give them a memorial experience of our character’s journey. Those kind of stories stick with us.
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