Saturday, January 16, 2016

Writing Basics: Establish Setting Using Comparisons

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I guess I am just all about the setting this week, you guys.

Reading Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff Gerke has me wanting to focus on the way I craft the settings in my story, and I am rehashing and refining some of my thoughts on the blog.

Today, I want to focus on how you can establish the scope of your setting by using comparisons.

As Gerke mentions, the human brain is accustomed to working in comparisons: "[The brain] takes the store of images and memories it has, and it compares those against what it's evaluating now" (p. 207).
Because your characters and your readers both do this, utilizing comparisons to establish setting is a great way to help your readers connect with the world in which your story is occurring. In some regard, using comparisons is a different way to show instead of tell your reader parts of the story.

Whether it is a lake the length of a football field, a door befitting the entrance to a hobbit hole, or a boulder the size of a Buick, there are ample comparisons one may make between objects in a story's setting and objects with which readers will be familiar. Comparisons are also useful when describing non-setting objects as well.

For example:

Instead of writing "A large dog ran into the yard," you could write "A dog the size of a newborn elephant lumbered into the yard."

The second sentence is wordier than the first, but notice how the second sentence shows the reader the size of the dog versus simply saying that the dog is large. Yes, inserting comparisons means using metaphors and similes. But don't go crazy with them; you may want to monitor your use of each to avoid appearing hyperbolic or campy.

Why comparisons?

Comparisons function as "word pictures," snippets of relatable ideas and images that your readers can apply to your story.

It is almost like having your reader's prior knowledge work for YOU! Which, when you think about it, is what your reader would be doing anyway. However, when you plainly state a comparison, you are able to point your reader in the direction you intended.

If you are writing genre fiction, you can have an exceptional amount of fun with this.

I don't have the time to come up with a list of comparison inspiration now (I may later), but imagine the creative and genre-specific comparisons you could come up with if you put your mind to it! The size of an ogre, as foul as a hydra's breath, hair the color of a robin's wings, voice like that of a lark. I am sure there are hundreds you could use!

How can you use comparisons in your story?

Go back and find any place where you use descriptions/adjectives and replace them with a comparison. Play around, see what you think. You may find that comparisons work in some places while you prefer the straightforward adjective/description in other places. Warning: Let me say again that you should not go crazy with this. Readers may find your comparisons refreshing in small doses, but too many comparisons could leave your readers feeling distracted.

What do you think about using comparisons when describing your settings and characters?

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