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Saturday, January 2, 2010

How to Write Setting Description

By Nicole North

All writers of fiction must create descriptions of their story’s settings, obviously, or the characters will seem to float in a void. But there are good ways and bad ways to bring setting description into your story.

Remember to write description using active verbs and vivid imagery. Choose the details which are important at that moment in your story. How do you choose which details are important? Use the ones that move your story forward, the ones that give the most accurate picture in the briefest way. Don’t try too hard or go over-the-top. Sometimes subtle is powerful. Less is more. A few really strong details are far better than several weak details.

You want your writing to be rich enough in specific detail for the reader to experience it as if they were there. But not so overburdened with detail that it’s weighted down and slow-paced. Choose your details very carefully. And keep your pacing going along at a nice clip.

Have you heard the saying “God is in the details?” Or the alternate “the devil is in the details.” And still another one, “the truth, if it exists, is in the details.” This could mean a couple of different things when it comes to writing. Details give life to a story and make it real. Detail can be the spirit and life-force. Detail can be difficult because it requires more research, especially when it comes to historical settings. Specific detail makes a story richer and more believable. This is why if you (or one of your characters) are trying to tell a convincing lie, you give specifics.

This is an excerpt from one of my lessons in my upcoming workshop, Take Your Writing to the Next Level, starting Monday. Please visit my website and click on workshops to learn more.
Thanks!
Happy New Year!

12 comments:

Lise said...

I love creating my worlds via the use of details - because the five senses and the descriptions of sensual details can mean the difference between a living, breathing world that your fascinating characters exist in - including atmosphere, tone and voice; and the bland, greyed-out generic "place" that doesn't grab your reader. A great subject, Nicole, and thank you for all your great advice and details on, well, the details!

Maeve Greyson said...

Well said! I can always tell when an author has gotten a bit heavy with too many details when I start "page skimming" to get on with the story. Thanks for a great post!

Nicole North said...

Lise, thanks! Creating worlds, especially distant ones like those in historicals, is great fun. Five senses are so important.

Maeve, thanks! That's true. I don't like being forced to skim. :)

Pat McDermott said...

Great advice, Nicole. Anchoring readers so they trust they're in the hands of a competent storyteller is always a challenge. Good luck with your workshop!

Nicole North said...

Pat, thanks! Yes, that's so true!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Very good tips. Sometimes we've done all this research and we HAVE to use it, but as Maeve says, if you're not careful, it'll bog down the story.

Nicole North said...

Anna, I know what you mean. I've found that very little of my research can go into the book. But it's still necessary background.

librarypat said...

Descriptions well done are so important to a story. They give the story an authenticity and feel that draws the reader in and makes them feel a part of it.
librarypat AT comcast DOT net.

Nicole North said...

Hi librarypat, that's so true!

Kathryn Albright said...

I'm several days late here, but wanted to agree with your post and say that your pictures were gorgeous!

Nicole North said...

Thanks so much, Kathryn!! I looked for pics that showed unusual but vivid settings.

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