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Monday, December 12, 2011

Where am I?

Setting the scene is an important part of the story. Each new place where action happens should be described to the reader. But not so much that we lull the reader to sleep with our beautiful description.

I also believe that different genres require different extents of detail. Fantasy and Sci Fi usually need more for world building, special items mere humans are unfamiliar with, new technology we can only dream of. But for romance, the scenes are secondary to the emotion and character interaction - who cares where they are? And for thrillers, even less. Action is the focus.

Right now I am reading two books, well three. But I am going to give you scenes from two. See if you can tell the genre by the descriptions.

Scene 1
...as I moved down the narrow gangway, past the two rear boilers that powered the steering engines. The low thrum of the engines as they turned the propellers sounded in time to the throb of movement felt in the metal framework structure that ran the length, breadth, and height of the ship. It was a familiar sensation, one I didn't even think of now, and certainly not one I noticed until I was on land, and it was missing.

Scene 2
It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armoured in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil.

Can you tell the difference?

Hints for the first are some of the words: thrum, throb, sensation. Most of the description is only in the beginning. This was one of the few sections without dialog. It is an excerpt from STEAMED by Katie MacAlister - a steampunk romance.

For the second, long winded descriptions like this have taken up the first 40 pages or so. Each chapter elegantly introduces a new character and back story. This is only part of a paragraph from A GAME OF THRONES by George R. R. Martin - epic fantasy. Yes, awesome series, awesome author and I'm sure there is an awesome story, if I can wade through the details to find it! I love fantasy, and I loved the WHEEL OF TIME series by Robert Jordan (bless his soul). I'm just having a hard time getting into this, but I haven't given up yet.

Reading beautifully described scenes like these makes me wonder - am I giving enough setting details? Does the reader feel like they are there? But mine is a thriller and my critters keep telling me my descriptions are slowing down the action. So I believe our genre sets the limits to our scene setting.

What do you think? Do you have a scene description to submit? Please share it! I'll be here all week =)

7 comments:

Sophia Richardson said...

I liked the first excerpt, but I had a moment of disconnect when I got to where the character states '[i]t was a familiar sensation, one I didn't even think of now, and certainly not one I noticed'. Um, wasn't the character just thinking about noticing the feeling?

I know I'm being super picky, and I did like the description until that point, but that line reminded me I was reading (part of) a book.

Huntress said...

I like the books by author Martin. But I had to make a conscious effort to focus on the scenes, the unfamiliar names, and location.
Why?
Conflict. From the first page on, the reader hardly has a chance to draw a breath. It was the catalyst for my decision to work at understanding his world.
Note the argument on the first page between a smarmy lording and his subordinate. The reader falls into the conflict and wants more.
Descriptions give the reader a backdrop for the story but in this case, Martin also gave the above scene life. Note these words: primal, untouched, moist earth and decay, crowded close, misshapen roots.
He could have used words like, scary, black, old, smelly. But no. Martin used words that live. They create a forceful image that explodes into the mind.

Ciara said...

Setting details are tricky. You don't want to have a purple prose condition, but you want to engross the reader. It is a delicate balance. I'm a new follower. Thank you so much for your comment about my new trailer at Alex's blog.

Angela Brown said...

Oddly, the first one made me wonder if we were in a submarine...a very old one.

For some reason, and I don't think it should have been the case, I knew the second one was fantasy the moment I read "old forest untouched for ten thousand years". I should have recognized it since I've read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series but I didn't. Something about that phrasing...hmmm...

mshatch said...

Oh yes, description is very important. The key is finding the balance between too much and not enough. I tend to like a little more because I want to be completely immersed in the world I'm reading about - regardless of genre. But when there's action, that's the time to cut description to a minimum. I think it also helps if description is interspersed with dialogue or thought, to break it up. Because while I want to picture in my mind where I am I tend to skip over big long chunks of description. When I go home tonight I'll see if I can find something of my own that might merit posting...

Charity Bradford said...

I love good descriptive scenes--as long as they are sprinkled in with everything else.

My story needs more world building, but I've avoided it because its very easy for me to really get into the details of my setting. I loves them so much!

Brooke R. Busse said...

I always feel like I don't write enough description so I add more. I am then told I still don't have enough. Another thing to tack onto my list of things to improve.