Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Place Settings

How do you set your atmosphere? It’s as important in a story as creating believable characters, and just as tricky.

It’s easy for a writer to slip into the easy way out when setting the backdrop for his/her well thought out characters.

For example: Dr. Trainlove sat upon his stool and studied the page before him. His wire-rimmed spectacles perched upon his nose, and his gray, frazzled hair sticking out at all angles.

That little paragraph tells us something about Dr. Trainlove, but not much about his surroundings. Delving deeper into his ‘place’ can give us lots of information about who he is, without having to ‘tell’ the reader who he is.

Such as: Dr. Trainlove made his way to a simple stool at the back of his study. The trip from door to stool was more like an expedition, than a trip from one end of a room to the other. Wading through papers, and stacks of books, vigilant in his effort not to upset the carefully planned disarray. Tripping on a stack of medical journals, Ivan Trainlove shoved his flimsy wire rimmed glasses up further on his nose, and twisted a gnarled finger through his gray, frazzled hair in an attempt to tame it’s unruly spikes that stuck out at all angles as he dropped to the stool, that creaked in protest. With an impatient flourish, he grabbed a single sheet of paper from the top of a precarious stack at the edge of his withered desk, and let the impact of the report sink in.

It would be easier, and more concise to simply say Dr. Trainlove’s office was a mess. It would be weak, passive, and boring though. Instead we see the office for what it is, in an active, and interesting way that portrays the character, and his quirks in a lively way.

How do you set your backdrops?

3 comments:

Bernita said...

The beauty of this example is that there is action throughout. It is not static.
Yet I find it more setting than atmosphere.
Make him sneeze...

MissWrite said...

LMAO at make him sneeze. I suppose I am lumping setting and atmosphere into the same lump of clay when they really are two seperate things.

Schuyler Thorpe said...

My place settings are a bit "visual". I don't just CREATE settings and places for the characeters to live in ("cardboard cutouts" as the old term goes)--while hoping for the best--I found out early on that LIVING in the world I've created gives everything a bit more flavor and solidity. (Okay...that should've read "substance". But it's late and I'm getting tired. :0P )

From there, the characters are created out of the ether, but their traits and characteristics aren't "cut out" either and dumped into one spot on the table. (And sat: "Please arrange everything into a nice neat person the way you found it--using everything you see before you.")

No, everything is spaced out--building the character over time--so that the reader can get a firm grip on what that person is.

Place settings are also done the same way. And if there are interactions...? Well, let's just say that it takes some creative mastery to make everything come together.

But usually after the third try.