25 March 2009

More on Setting

Editor Dave has inspired me to reread Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel. This is quite good and I recommend it if you haven't read it. I may blog a bit about it, starting with setting. Setting is particularly important in speculative fiction, because basically anything goes! A couple things Maass said about setting struck me as interesting: For a setting to feel broadly representative, it must be highly specific. And ...the breakout novel ...creates its own complete, detailed, logical, and unique world. A little later, Place presented from an objective or omniscient point of view runs the risk of feeling like boring description... Try evoking the description the way it is experience by a character.

I strongly agree that settings need to be specific, but I disagree that they are or should be "broadly representative". I think we need settings to be specific so we, the readers, can put ourselves there. That's part of the goal with fiction, right? To experience being someone else. So, instead of going to 'the store', your character should go to the Truhr family's bodega down on 39th Street, where they have pictures of their five kids taped on the old-fashioned cash register. etc. etc. Okay, that's silly, but you get the idea.

I really liked the second quote above. Omniscient description does often feel boring, but when you filter it through 1st-person or 3rd-person characters, it gets interesting. For example, is it ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit outside, or are rivulets of sweat sluicing down Tamara's back, making her want to rip off her wool-blend interview suit? And does she go into the bodega for a frosty beverage... Now I'm rambling. :) But, I think you get the idea.

So, keep sending Electric Spec your setting-laden stories.


writtenwyrdd said...

Writing must evoke a reaction in the reader (preferably the one you want them to have!) so 'broadly representative' doesn't make any sense to me.

Filtering the description through the pov character is smart, allowing the reader to identify with the character more.

Thanks for sharing. I keep thinking I should read this book, but I haven't finished reading most of the other books on writing I have.

lesleylsmith said...

I hear you, writtenwyrdd! I think we all have a big bunch of books in our to-be-read pile. :)

ssas said...

maybe by "broadly representative" Maass means that we can identify with a detailed setting rather than the details. Sure, we might not go to that particular grocer who has pictures, but we have one where the checker always wears oxygen and we worry about her lifting the gallon of milk over the scanner. So I can easily envision their grocer and the connection they feel to somewhere they go often.

Or did that just confuse the issue?

lesleylsmith said...

IMHO you did just confuse the issue. :)