Write2Day–Setting and Description


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As writers of fiction and poetry, I believe part of our responsibility to readers is to allow them to travel places they have never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.

Long descriptive paragraphs of setting often disenchant today’s readers who are used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few seconds (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention deficit disorder in our culture?) but the fact remains that setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique without losing our audience is employ it as a device to break up dialogue. Here’s a very brief example from my recently-published novel, “Winter is Past”

“I wonder how Michael’s handling it. Do you think I should I call him?” Josh asked me.

“Will it help?” Based on Kathryn’s assessment, I had my doubts.

Josh shook his head and fixed his eyes on a quail eating seeds he’d planted in the flower garden. “Maybe not, but I can try; I’ll call after we eat…”

Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from the same novel as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powerlessness:

I trotted after Kathryn who jogged along the brick path beside our house. My eye caught sight of a tiny wren, cowering in the dense foliage of a rambling juniper shrub. Overhead, a majestic red-tailed hawk circled, squawking a message of certain doom at the tiny bird. I felt tears well up in my eyes then turned my attention back to Kathryn who now disappeared through the redwood gate.

In previous posts, I’ve described a practice I use off and on. In your writing journal, at the end of each day, describe 5-10 things you have noticed throughout the day. Return to these lists for ideas to supplement your own writing then return to a scene you have written in which you have “told” rather than “shown” an emotion. Try rewriting it using a bit of scenery or a background activity to elicit that same feeling. This is helpful to keep in mind when you are rewriting/revising your work as well.

So, for today’s prompt, write a poem or a piece of short fiction that features setting and/or description. You may want to post a bit of dialogue that you’ve broken up using the above-mentioned technique.

How to participate? Simply post your submission on your blog, then access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this page. Add your name and the direct URL of your post, and voila–you’re in. Kindly take the time to visit and comment on other participants.

I will be on the road for a couple of days, so I may not be able to visit your posts right away. Thank you for participating and have fun writing.

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18 thoughts on “Write2Day–Setting and Description

  1. dragonkatet says:

    Thank you for the excellent suggestions, Victoria. I have been sorely lacking in inspiration lately, so perhaps this will help. You do setting and description so very well…you’re a tough act to follow. 🙂

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  2. I will definitely get back to participating in your challenges … I haven’t written a word down the whole December, now I need to look for inspirations and your prompts were always inspirational!

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  3. Beth Larson says:

    I just received “Winter Is Past” from the bookseller. I picked it up, thinking I’d read just the first chapter before my shower. Hmmmmmm. Bad idea! I couldn’t wait to get back to it to find out what happens to Kathryn.

    My first criterion about a book is that I learn to really care about the characters!!!

    Looks like this is going to be a wonderful trip!!

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  4. souldipper says:

    I really appreciate these pieces you put together, Victoria. This year will be some interesting writing for me. Something’s brewing, but it’s still a mystery to me. Seems I’m meant to pay attention! Your suggestion to write some description is a good one for me.

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  5. claudia says:

    that’s a great article victoria – think it’s such an important thing to get the reader emotionally involved – otherwise he/she won’t be able to connect to the piece – have a great time in the desert. i used to sew a lot when the kids when the kids where small…always loved the feeling of creating it has..just like poetry..smiles

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  6. brian says:

    very cool victoria…one of my goals when i write is to put the person there…engaging all their senses…setting plays a huge role in that…and nice pointing out how you can set the mood or feeling with setting as well…

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  7. Bodhirose says:

    I’m not too practiced on writing dialogue but did add a little to my descriptive piece. I certainly think that detailed scene setting helps keep the reader’s attention.

    I wonder too about the rampant attention deficit striking our children.

    Thanks for another great prompt and your tireless encouragement, Victoria.

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  8. […] Write2Day–Setting and Description:  https://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/write2day-setting-and-description/ […]

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  9. This is another great challenge, Victoria … MMMMmmm … you do push the envelope.
    I think this story that I submitted to the Bluebell Books challenge may fit the requirements.
    Hope so ….!!! ~~~~ : – )
    Hugs and Toodles,
    Izzy xoxo
    http://insidethemindofisadora.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/a-celebration-of-a-life/

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  10. markwindham says:

    Thanks for the exercise Victoria. Going to have to spend more time on this one, when there is more time.
    http://wp.me/p1ZKiY-4O

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  11. […] at Write2Day asked for a piece involving setting and description. Being somewhat pressed for time, I decided to […]

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  12. viv blake says:

    I needed this lesson, Victoria – thank you. I’ve posted an extract from a novella that I am attempting to ‘grow’ into a full-blown novel, and should be very glad of some critical help.

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  13. […] at https://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/write2day-setting-and-description/ gives us a tutorial and prompt on how to show the setting of a piece without reams of prosy […]

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