Sunday, July 21, 2013

Places and Stories

The hunk and I have a couple television series we've been watching on Netflix in the evenings. Last night he made a... snide comment about the musical background for one of them. And we ended up flicking through various episodes of different series comparing the music.

After a while, he conceded the music for the particular title was not only appropriate, but greatly enhanced the setting and mood. At the time we were comparing various programs, I noticed the programs with the most evocative music were all produced by the same company. Interesting. The credits, the music, and the settings were all carefully chosen to enhance the end products.

Consider. There are only so many story types. After that, the differences are all about how we arrive at the end. That's accomplished by externals. In the case of visual media, music and setting help exaggerate the differences.

But how can we accomplish the same thing in written media? No music. No pictures. Alas, we are limited to description of settings and characters. Too often, the setting is ignored or at best wallpaper. The best books have what I describe as deep background.

Now I'm not advocating pages dense with never-ending description. A tree is a tree is a tree. Or is it? A grove of pine trees singing in the wind is very different from a grove of shady oaks deep in the forest or a grove of knobby kneed cedars in a swamp. A beach can be sandy, stony, outright rocky, sunny, moonlit, small, vast, with dunes or flat. Neighborhoods are quiet or noisy, depending on time of day or week. Saturday mornings might echo with the roar of lawnmowers or the shouts of children playing. Monday would be very quiet as everyone is off to work and school. Which day would you choose for a violent murder? Why?

Television series and movies have artificial sets where the action is filmed. As viewers, we observe the sets without really concentrating on them. They're there, providing information we absorb subconsciously. The library of a rich man tells us things about the characters without uttering a word. So does the small apartment in a ghetto. Those are visual cues.

The writer has to provide the same cues using words--without intruding on the story. Some are more skillful at this. A creative writing instructor once assigned my class a two page task. The parameters were deceptively simple. It was to be single spaced with one inch margins. At least one half page must be dialogue with no tags. The settings--and characters (no more than two)--were to be so clearly delineated he could instantly place location and assign recognizable actors to the parts.

Many years later, this two page assignment was the core of my first book, Dancer's Delight. When I go back to read the two pages, I see the seeds of all the ideas, humor, and descriptions I incorporated in my story. That is the essence of setting.


1 comment:

  1. Yup yup yup. That's a great writing exercise, Anny. I see the off-beat humor in your stories too!