Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Writing Basics: Grounding Your Scenes in Setting

photo cred: © Ales Krivec – Unsplash This blog uses affiliate links. Learn more here.

Relating back to my post on beats in dialogue wherein I referenced incorporating setting into some of your beats, this post is going to deal with grounding your scenes in the setting.

This post was inspired by the book Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff Gerke.

What does "grounding scenes in setting" mean?

I don't know about you, but I often get so lost in writing my story that I forget to focus on the details.

I start a scene – in a garden, say – throw my characters into the setting, and then let the setting play second fiddle to what the characters are doing/saying/thinking/feeling.

At such times, my scene is free floating in a void.

Yes, I mention at the beginning of the scene that the characters are in a garden. But I forget to mention the garden at all – or even the fact that they are outside – until the end of the scene. For this reason, several of my scenes fall flat or are jarring to read.

My mistake is that, in those instances, I don't ground my scenes in the setting.

Grounding you scene in setting means never letting your reader forget that your characters are flirting, fighting, scheming, weeping, or loving in a real, physical place. While you don't have to beat your readers over the head with details about the background of the scene, you do need to make the setting evident in the scene.

How can you ground your scenes in setting?

I find that the easiest way to keep your setting from fading into the background (*insert well-timed and cheeky laugh here) is to get into your characters' heads. What do they see? Are there noises your characters would naturally hear in this setting? What about smells?

Do you see where I am going with this?

Make your scene real for readers by having it described through sensory details your characters themselves would experience (caveat: don't slip into filtering). Consider your characters' five physical senses when crafting a scene to insure the setting doesn't slip too far into the background.

1. Sight

What can your characters see? Remember to include things that make sense for the scene. You want to ground your scene in the setting, not shift the focus of the scene to the setting. Also, try to be creative with what your characters observe. In my garden setting, for example, I could write about a breeze making the rose buds sway.

2. Smells

Are there smells that your reader would associate with the your setting? Manure in a stable, roasting meat in the kitchen, fresh bread in a bakery, or ozone during a rainstorm, your setting is going to come with an array of smells with which your readers are familiar. Draw from these to round out your setting.

3. Sounds

The rustle of leaves, the bark of a dog, booming thunder, laughing children. All of these things could be associated with a specific type of setting or multiple settings. What type of sounds would a character hear in your setting?

4. Touch (Feelings/Sensations)

Is your setting cold? Warm? Dry? Humid? Are your characters sheering itchy wool from sheep, or patting down slimy mud pies? There are bound to be things your characters would feel in the setting.

5. Tastes

This one is a little more difficult. You may only be able to utilize this type of detail if your characters are eating (obviously). But a subtle mention of taking a bit of salty soup or savoring the sweetness of honey candy can add an additional layer to the setting while also bringing readers back to the setting itself (a candy store, the kitchen, a restaurant, a dining hall, etc.).

As a final word, remember:

You don't have to flood your scene with details about the setting. But you do want to make sure that you are providing enough sensory details that your scene doesn’t drown in the action.

Did you find this information helpful? Be sure to pick up a copy of Jeff Gerke's Write Your Novel in a Month for more thought-provoking concepts like this one.

No comments: