Monday, February 7, 2011
And that's when it hits you. Somewhere between your mind and the page in front of you, the imagery you conjured was lost. YOU know where the characters are because YOU are the one who is writing the story. Unfortunately, your readers are not telepathic and won't be able to read your mind to see what you see. All they'll see are great characters in a great plot with no setting.
In this way, books are very much like movies. What is one of the first things a director looks for? Location, location, location! You, my fellow writers, are the directors of your novels and it doesn't matter what genre you write. Fantasy, Horror, Romance...even poetry--Location matters!
Say you're writing about a journalist (let's call him Jim) living in the Darien Jungle, studying the tribes of the Kuna Indians. He meets a missionary and falls in love. You cannot leave the background up to the readers imagination...that's your job. You need to show them every lucious green leaf, every drop of rain that falls on the roof of Jim's hut as he looks over his notes by the glow of a battered laptop. Wind whips through the screenless windows, blowing papers every which way. In the distance, sounds of chanting fill the otherwise calm night air. Make them feel the hot air, thick and heavy with moisture as he paddles down the river in a too small canoe, in search of the next tribe. Let them feel the angry sting of mosquitos that Jim is slapping against the back of his neck, smell the afterscent of rain, when he first sees her--the woman who will capture his heart.
Or maybe your characters are teens, lost in Bran Castle because they strayed from the tour group in search of something that would prove Dracula really lived there. Now they are terrified, fearing for their lives. Why? Can't you hear the sound behind them? Yes, that whispered cry echoing off the damp, brick walls. Or maybe it's the screeching rats that just scurried by them down the spiraling stairwell, their flea infested bodies brushing the teens bare legs. It sends shivers up their spines and they start to run. The sound of their pounding feet sending an avalanche of sound in the direction of that being--that creature lurking in the shadows. They smell something stale, can you smell that? It's dank and slightly putrid...like something has been dead for years. Fear turns to panic as they realize the sun is setting. Soon they will be left with nothing but the lights of their cell phones...And really, how long will that last?
It's the setting that makes your characters jump off the page even more. You can have dialogue down to a tee, write the scenes with an intensity that will keep readers riveted--but if you don't build the world around them, it means nothing. Scenery is critical to your story, just as much (if not more) as any other element. Where your characters are can help create conflict or end it. It will give the reader an understanding sometimes, of why he/she acts the way they do. The place you live in, has a lot to do with who you are. Why would it be any different with your characters. But more importantly, making sure you describe WHERE, will enable your reader to picture this wonderful world of yours right along with you.
Even if it is a simple setting. An every day house, with ordinary things--it's still important that you describe the place. Is it a large house? Maybe there is a big backyard with a small pool and a slide some kids stuck in it. Or, if your character doesn't have children, maybe instead of a small pool there is a hot tub where he/she entertains lovers? The possibilities are endless and entirely up to you. That is the beauty of it.
So I challenge you to take another glance at your writing, this time with new eyes. And ask yourself, "If I were a new reader, would I know where my characters are?"
Answer honestly, nobody will be watching you.