Sunday, October 14, 2007


I’m back from my mini-trip, which was great fun, and it did, among other things, spark ideas.  I hoped this would happen. 

A few weeks ago  Patti Abbott suggested I take a ride on a bus and listen to people’s conversations to pick up ideas for stories.  I told her there were no buses where I live.  I knew what she was getting at because I used to do that all the time when I lived in NYC.  But, alas, it was hard to do that here.

My mini-trip involved both bus and boat and I was able to hear some delicious conversations.  And, of course, they gave me ideas.

I guess I should go away more.

On her blog today Patti raises the question of should you or shouldn’t you describe a setting in your novel?  It’s a good question.  In the Nineties I wrote a series that took place in NYC and almost every critic said that the city was as much a character as my people.

I did this in little ways.  And never more than using a sentence or three.  I see nothing wrong with getting your setting into the reader’s mind as long as you don’t go into great long descriptions.

I’ve noticed in some crime novels writers do things like this: ‘We turned at 4th Street, made a left on Kenneth and another left onto Clinton Avenue.  A few streets down we made a right at Van Ness.’

I find that strange.  What does it tell us? Nothing. If it’s a big city like NYC or San Francisco and the streets are real it might inform people who know that city where the action takes place.  But I don’t know what it does for those who don’t know those places.  And if it’s an invented city or town, it’s really meaningless.

But to describe your setting is important.  And it doesn’t have to happen through dialogue. A cleverly placed description of one or two sentences will do it and won’t slow down the story.



pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the reason I am driven to do this in the novel is because the character's plight and Detroit's go hand in hand. When I write about streets where all the houses are gone, about empty freeways that circle the city, it reflects on both character and setting. But I did excise a few of the more lengthy ones.
Cell phones have brought another dimenstion entirely to eavesdropping on buses. More personal conversations than what you heard years ago.

Picks by Pat said...

When I wrote my first novel, this was the most common mistake I would make. I would overdo directions. My editor is helping me to cut back considerably, although I do like to leave some landmarks in. Why? Because I'm writing about a real location.

I'm going to try Sandra's suggestion and complete a scene description in two or three sentences. It sounds impossible! Wish me luck.


Jessica Ferguson said...

I'm lousy with settings. I'm super-lousy with description. I'm very strong with dialogue but that's about it. I'm even a lousy plotter.
Yep, I'm still in a mood.

But Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lover's Soul is on the stands. If you come across it read The Dud in White. I'm the dud.