As a writer of fiction and poetry, I believe part of my responsibility to the reader is to allow her to travel places she has never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.
Long descriptive paragraphs of setting may disenchant the reader of today who’s used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few second. (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention defecit disorder in our culture?)
Above all, setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique is to break up dialogue. Here’s a brief example from my 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. Honey, why did Kathryn ask you to take her to her appointments instead of Michael?” Josh grabbed the meat with tongs, slid it onto a plate and headed back into the house.
Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from “Winter is Past” as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powelessness:
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 a previous post, I 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.
Happy writing. Enjoy the process.