Sunday, December 1, 2019

2019 December - Sensory Perceptions

Sensory Perceptions

This is Part 12 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings
 ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Ah, the five basic senses— sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. These are also the basic sensory perceptions needed to help show, not tell, a story.

But what exactly is a sensory perception when it comes to storytelling? 

Technically, a sensory perception is the neurophysiological process of perceiving stimuli and reacting to it. What those big words mean is that people use the various senses to gain a better understanding of the world around them in order to act or react to what's going on. 

Keep in mind that reactions may be positive, negative, neutral, or ignored. For instance— 

A positive sight reaction might be: seeing Christmas cookies and recalling how good your grandmother's or mother's sugar cookies were.

A negative sound reaction might be: hear a diamondback rattle snake's rattle nets terror (and with good reason— because that's a poisonous snake)

A neutral reaction might be: the taste of potatoes or other everyday foods which may not require any reaction. However, if there were jalapenos in said potatoes, there would be a different taste and a far different reaction depending on the heat level.

An ignored sensory perception might be the touch of a breeze that is neither warm nor cold or worthy of a reaction. Yet, the breeze is subtle enough to note the type of day it is or the season of the year.

Each of the above reactions can work in a story, too. 

Look at your draft for setting elements of sound, smell, touch, taste, and sight. Ask: can that element trigger the focal character to recall something important or react like a human being should?  Is the resulting action important to the development of the drama and plot? Doing so is a far better way to show, not tell. 

Now, which of the five sensory perceptions do you think writers chronically overuse? 

If you said "sight," you would be correct. Initial drafts of stories are often "sight-heavy," but those of most novice writers are ponderously sight-heavy, especially with descriptions of the setting or story world. 

Is there a way to check for sight-heaviness or sensory perceptions? Yes, there is. You can check your work by using four differently colored highlighters. For a good look at your sensor usage level, pick ten pages, which is about 3,000 words. Then, one by one, using a different color for each round, go through the pages and mark the words or passages pertaining to sound, smell, touch, and taste. 

But what about the fifth sense—sight? Technically what is left on the page will be what is seen and described or which is dialogue (both spoken and internal). 

When done, what do you see? Do you have huge blocks of "sight?" Do you have a mix of colors? Is one sensory perception missing or rarely used?

Ideally, you would have a mix of perceptions—and a character responding to the various sensory input.

If you do this exercise, leave a comment and let me know what you discovered.


Congratulations to all who participated in and finished NaNoWriMo!

The next step is rewrites and revising but you can make that a far easier task by using this little guidebook 

and when you're ready to market your story, be sure you can pitch it successfully by taking this Feb. 1-29, 2020 online course hosted by Pennwriters — Details are HERE

*********Next month begins a new series for this blog on Job Titles for Story Characters.

Happy Holidays!


Thursday, October 31, 2019

2019 - November - Setting the Scene -- The Props

This is Part 11 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

The setting of a scene includes getting double or triple mileage out of the setting's props that characters handle or must navigate through.

Like limiting the number of scenes in a story to certain key settings, it's a good idea to limit the number of props that are handled or used in an individual scene. 

Of course, there should be little repetition of most props. The exceptions are for the props that are unique to a character's character. For example, a ring that the heroine will constantly turn only when under stress. Another example is a weapon that a character needs for their job. 

One caution—don't draw so much attention to any prop or object that will mislead the reader. For instance, if a shotgun appears in the opening of the story and it's used in the climax, that gun will be mentioned in the middle of the book (thus effectively utilizing the technique of The Rule of Three). That second mention in the middle of the story catches the reader's attention. Usually it's the subconscious that picks up on this type of repetition, which makes the reader look forward to seeing how the shotgun will be used in or near the end of the story.

Which means, if an unimportant prop is handled or used, you must relegate it to oblivion so the reader doesn't think it's paramount to the story. For example, that glass of whiskey The Heroine poured herself while she lamented the perfidies of a certain male (the Romantic Lead). She must do something with the empty (or semi-full or full) glass. Does she put the glass in the sink, throw and break it to release her frustration-anger, etc. Such action amounts to showing, not telling, the reader her emotional state. 

Now if that glass is left in limbo, ignored, never mentioned again, the reader subconsciously picks up on that. The reader is curious and remain curious about that item and wonders if there is significance to the item. When the reader finally realizes the item was insignificant, that irks the reader, who may decide the story is a one-star read.

Speaking of show versus tell, readers do not need to be told every detail or every prop in a setting—only the succinct ones, the important ones. After all, the more time a writer spends describing an item—a weapon, a machine, furniture, or the lay of the land or room, etc.—the more the reader will assume those things have importance. Besides, overdone descriptions bore  readers so they skip sentences and paragraphs to get to the good stuff of action or dialogue exchanges.

Which brings me to— Certain props can be included and mentioned because the prop is a red herring. A red herring is a clue, one that is specifically intended to be misleading. Or the red herring can distract the reader's attention away from what is a bonafide clue that solves the story problem.

As mentioned in the October post, it's always a good idea to diagram a scene and include the props for that scene. It's also a good idea that the specific props so necessary for the story's plot to be believable be placed on the story's Master Word List. Doing so insures keeping track of such things as weapons. After all, The Villain might have a Glock 357 and The Hero has a Colt 45   or The Heroine has a Derringer. 

Remember, the idea is never to confuse a reader. 

Keep track of the story's significant props. Everything with a one-time or short-term use should be downplayed or relegated to obscurity as quickly as possible.

*** Next month, December 2019 — Sensory Perceptions

***It's NANOWRIMO - To all who are participating, I wish you words that flow like water onto the page and that you achieve your writing goal by November 30.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

2019 October - Setting—The Layout

This is Part 10 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings 
◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved


Geography can encompass a world or a galaxy, yet, as you've learned from previous posts, it's best to limit a setting. This means the setting will be a small, but ever so important, piece of that world or galaxy. For instance, the bridge of a space ship cruising the galaxy, or the bedroom of an old Victorian house on a hill, or maybe a rabbit hole in a forest where a fairy is visiting.

Setting should be thought of as an island from which there is no escape and which forces characters to interact (either willingly or unwillingly) with the environment or with other characters (or beings, or entities, etc.).

Geographic limits work to logically tie the story's scenes together from the world overview down to the protagonist's kitchen sink (where he or she might be scrubbing a lasagna pan unaware they are a madman's target). 

Because a scene's settings is so important, a wise writer will search for a picture that helps them visualize what's in the setting and exactly where things are. If a photo isn't helpful, at least draw or sketch a diagram of the room or building. Again, that sketch helps a writer visualize the setting. Included in that sketched setting will be props and other details (like light sources, entries and exits, etc.).

Here is an exercise that I've had my students do: 

1. pick a scene from your story
2. draw or sketch the floor plan for that scene's setting
3. draw or write in the props (what decorates the walls, the furniture, the machinery, technology, etc.)
4. mark the light sources and shadows
5. mark the entrances and exits to that setting
6. denote colors of walls, flooring, etc.

Now, have someone read back your text concerning that scene. While they read the words, walk your character through the setting diagram (or picture or sketch). You may be surprised to find that what you imagined was not what was written onto the page. For example, finding the protagonist exiting into a closet instead of the front door. Or, why did your protagonist go all the way into a dark room to turn on a table lamp when there was a light switch right inside the doorway that they could have turned on? (Both of these examples came from my students and is used with their permission.)

Which brings me to props—those items that not only decorate a scene but which come in handy for the characters to interact with as the characters move around and, in particular, handle. Such interaction with props means you can write "beats" instead of using "he said" or "she said" speech tags. More on props next month. 

Above all else, whether you narrow your setting down by using drawings, sketches, or pictures, remember to think about and include the wonder of your world. And be sure to show it through the narrating character, who should be your protagonist because he or she is profoundly affected by that setting and only has the items in that setting to work with.

**** Next Month: 2019 November - Props

****Nanowrimo - good luck to those embarking on a month of writing, writing, writing!

And to make that an even better draft—or to self-edit it when you've completed the story, get 

Great Reviews, likeThe more I read this book and note all the steps I need to revise my YA novel, the more I learn about how to better write my book in the first place. This is a fabulous book that every writer should have on their reference bookshelves!  -Kathy E.

Available at and other booksellers

Sunday, September 1, 2019

2019 September - Setting as Character

This is Part 9 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings
 © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Setting can become like a character, or the focal character will refer to and be convinced that the setting or an element of their setting is like a person. Character as setting is also a staple trope of fiction.

For instance, The Spaceship (or space station) is like a large ocean liner. It breaks down at the most inopportune moment. And if the chief engineer or other fix-it person sweet talks it (or threatens to send it to the junk yard), the ship (or station) starts working again—and often saves the crew's lives.

However, don't confuse this with a Sapient Ship (one that thinks and talks like HAL in A Space Odyssey or V'ger from Star Trek or a Living Ship like Moya, the leviathan starship of Farscape. Such ships can wise and insightful or downright dastardly.

And don't forget about other setting transports, like cars, trucks, boats, airships, etc. Think Transformers or even Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle.   

Then there is The City trope. The City is seen by the focal character as a living organism, perhaps a hive of millions that are forever changing The City's landscape and subsystems, building, expanding, or even tearing things down. 

The City might be a magical forest land, swamp, or mountain in a fantasy realm.

Another type of setting trope is The Entity (that which is perceived or known or inferred to have its own distinct existence and can be living or nonliving. The Entity can be an alien species. Aliens can be humanoid or beasts. The Entity can be robots or machines (computers). Like human beings, some might be good, others not-so-good, and still others truly evil. Much will depend on the roll The Entity plays in the story. 

However, when it comes to setting-as-a-character details, take the time to really think about the origins of that particular setting-as-a-character. Do the same for The Entity, those aliens, robots, or beasts that are part of the story world. After all, each is the product of some environment or some technology or some wizardry. You-the-writer need to know this, but the reader likely only needs to know the bare bones (ten percent) of it all.

And, as always, continue to strive to make the setting as believable and as logical as possible to the reader.

***WRITER'S ROAD TRIP #7, October 12, 2019, at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Erie PA (across from Waldameer Park).  I'm doing two workshops at this one-day mini-conference for writers. The workshops are:  the "3-Act Structure" of story and "Dynamic Dialogue."  

This event is hosted by Pennwriters Area 1 (For information to - ) or visit the event's Facebook page at

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

2019 August — Old Worlds, New Worlds — Medieval, Steampunk, Futuristic

This is Part 8 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. — Marcus Garvey

In this segment on world building, we'll delve a bit into medieval, steampunk, and futuristic world building. In these three areas, believability is paramount. So let's begin with— 


What medieval readers dislike the most is a story filled with inaccuracies of the story's era, histories, and setting details. Often it is the simple things that foul up a read. Take pockets. 

Because I am an SCA member (, and I sew my own costumes, I became aware that pockets as we know them today, didn't come into vogue until the 1600's. So what did the peasant or aristocrat use for pockets? Depends on the era. And a wise writer will embrace the adage of "Don't assume. Know (or look it up)." 

Keep in mind there are a lot of reenactors and reenactments held. Those enthusiasts know their era and how to replicate things of their era. So, if you write historic, go to such events and demonstrations. And do any other research that's necessary so you discover the gems of attire, tools, etc. that you can insert into your story.


Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy fiction. It incorporates technology and tastefully creative augmentation and enhancement of designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Think iron, gears, clockwork figures, mechanical devices and machines. 

The setting for steampunk is usually the British Victorian era or the American Wild West. Sometimes it might be in a future or fantasy world that uses steam power. Browse images on Pinterest ( for  visuals. And don't forget the character's costumes will have leather, clockwork devices, etc. (


The definition of futuristic is something that has to do with the future, or is ahead of the current times. Examples would be The War of the Worlds, Foundation, Ender's Game, or Dune.

The setting will often be a different planet or our own Earth decades or centuries in the future. Writing a future world will entail world-building that provides some chronological base from which Earth changed and which justifies what Earth evolved into for the future story.

This means paying attention to government, society, tropes, religions and beliefs, morals, science, technology, and so on. Attire, tool, weapons, modes of transportation and communication are also factors to consider in order to make the future believable.

Once more let me stress that it's imperative you, the writer, the author, make your medieval, steampunk, or futuristic world setting believable. That way you ensure the reader is never taken out of the story world or questions what's going on.

And once more, it's about knowing what is in the real world, the true histories of a historical time period, how mechanical or scientific devices work (or should function). For Steampunk and Futuristic, it's also about extrapolating the known to arrive at possibilities that can be believed.

Coming in September - SETTING AS CHARACTER 


Monday, July 1, 2019

2019 July - Science or Magic? Fantasy or Reality?

Magic is something that happens that appears to be impossible. What I call 'illusion magic' uses laws of science and nature that are already known. Real magic uses laws that haven't yet been discovered. — Doug Henning

As I've said many times, a writer must never forget that readers are logical people. Humans want logic and order in their lives, not chaos. 

Yes, readers want to escape to fantastical venues, story worlds that are larger than life, which means making the unbelievable seem so logical and "realistic" that the reader is very willing to suspends their disbelief. Make one mistake in a logical premise and the reader will scoff at the absurdity and likely not finish reading the story.

Let's look at an example of, say, rains that lasts five years (rain every day). The logical reader is flummoxed. How can that be? 

If a science fiction story, did some rain-making machine go haywire?

If a fantasy world has a rain forest, does it rain in spurts once or twice a day? Just enough to keep the forest lush and beautiful?

If a magical world, was a curse set upon the land for rain and gloom?

Let's tackle the toughest scenario of rain for five years. How can you prove to the reader that it can very well rain every day for 5 years? Answer— by trolling the Internet or your local library for facts like this one at (The photos alone would do a fantasy world proud!) 

Now extrapolate what you've discovered and learned and apply it to your story world's setting dynamics.

You might think that because you're writing fiction, you can do anything you want. After all, it is YOUR story. The problem comes with selling that premise or story idea to a reader (or editor or agent). 

To get ideas for your story world's premise, be it scientific, fantastical, or magical, I recommend a visit to the children's section of a library for books on fairy tales, legends, myths, fables. Once you arm yourself with such knowledge, ideas may come to light so you can prove to a reader how fantastical, yet believable, your story world is.

As long as you're delving into possibilities, consider what is complex that lies beneath the surface. In other words, what's hidden that can be spotlighted for the good of the story's setting and the character's world?

Other questions to ask are—

* What's the "marvelous?

* What's magnificent? 

* What's astonishing? 

* What's grand?

* What's wonderful?

* What's the awe factor for the world?

Make your world so believable that the reader will never question the unreality of it.

August's topic about setting and world building will be -  Old Worlds, New Worlds — Medieval, Steampunk, Futuristic

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Saturday, June 1, 2019

2019 - June - World Building - Governments, Caste Systems

This is Part 6 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved - Catherine E. McLean /

Good government is one of the most important factors in economic growth 
and social well-being.
—Joe Lonsdale 

In the overall world-view of a story's setting, there is some type of law-and-order system, a governing body or governing individual, that affects the protagonist and other characters in a story. The governance will have a psychological, social, and political influence that will be reflected in the setting and other aspects of a story. 

Yes, we're talking about a "government."

But what exactly is government? It is defined as "social relations involving intrigue to gain authority or power." 

Types of governments and governing bodies include utopian, dystopian, capitalism, dictatorship, communism, fascism, racism, theocracy, totalitarianism, militarism, plutocracy, and more.

Caste systems run the gamut from family units, to warrior classes (like Samurai) to hunter-gatherer tribes to pharaohs and kings, princes and emperors, alien (extraterrestrial) and magical.

In creating a story world, a lot of thought and research may go into the society the story's characters must function in. Yet, no matter how much research a writer does or how much pre-writing is done about a governing body of that story world, the reader won't need but a tenth of it. After all, the reader wants a story, not a historic tome. 

A writer should strive to present the effects, both positive and negative, of a society's laws, norms, phobias, morals, etc. while the story moves along. The trick is to do it without resorting to an information dump. 

The most effective way to get the necessary elements on the page will be through one specific person, and often one of the high-ranking minions of the government end up being the antagonist. For example, a king or the chief of a warring tribe out to gain territory or riches. But it could also be a bureau chief of a government body (like the CIA) or some rich CEO. 

By exercising all the clout and power at their disposal, such antagonists become an enemy to the protagonist. And that, of course, forces the protagonist to either go along or go against the reining presence.

The conflict between the antagonist and the protagonist helps the reader better experience the story on a more personal and emotional level. For example, the IRS stops being initials for a government bureau and a faceless but oh-so-powerful entity when one zealous agent (who has a name, an agenda, and a goal) deliberately targets the protagonist. That causes considerable turmoil for the protagonist, forcing them to take the challenge, persevere, and change the status quo. 

In a war or great battle of militaries, it's not the entire war that unfolds, but one person's role in that war. That's because war is too large a scale, and the story isn't about the war itself (no matter how interesting the aspects of that war are). A wise writer will write about a small segment of that war from a specific Point of View and Viewpoint—usually that of the protagonist. 

Whether it's medieval fight using swords or a modern war fought with drones, it's best to limit the field of action to a specific battle site setting. For example, it's not Platoon Bravo in Sector 4, it's Private Brown, terrified, feeling the impact of the noise of bullets and grenades, the cumbersomeness of his gear, the weight of his weapon, who is slogging up a hill to take out an enemy fortification and seeing his comrades fall. It's the war (and the character's inner battle) up close and personal for the reader.

Again, a story's setting is impacted by a particular ruling government body or a caste or tribal system, which in turn affects or influences the primary story characters' words, thoughts, and deeds. 

As always, add only what is absolutely necessary for verisimilitude to keep the reader engaged.

Next month World Building continues with -  July 2019 - Science or Magic?  Fantasy or Reality?
Join me at my Facebook Author Page

Announcing: February 2020, month-long online course hosted by Pennwriters on "Make That Pitch" - learn how to effectively create a tag line, query paragraphs, synopses, and back cover copy.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

2019 May - World Building - Religion and Belief Systems

By Starfunker226 - Karya sendiri, CC BY-SA 3.0
This is Part 5 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings 
◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

If you want to start an argument, mention politics or religion. I hope to avoid unrest here with this brief look at setting and it's religious aspects.

In April's post, I touched on world building's settings that included society. Well, part of any society may well include a belief or religious aspect.

If you delve into the history of religion, you'll discover there is a time line involved of what happened before written language was used to record religious texts and beliefs. Writing on clay and parchment, then printing presses, led to standardizing religious texts and making it far easier than the memorization of prayers and divine rules. 

For instance, the Bible involves the collecting of multiple oral texts handed down over the centuries. Other ancient texts include the Quran and The Dead Sea Scrolls. The Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt are the oldest known religious texts in the world, dating to between 2400-2300 BCE.

But how does such knowledge play into the setting of a story? In three ways— 

1) Through the society which utilizes some form of religion to set laws and determine right and wrong—and the punishment thereof

2) Through the Major Story Characters who believe in someone or something religious 

3) Through wars (attributed to Divine Right, Holy Crusades, etc.) and be those wars fought one-on-one or by military powers, the result is to gain territory, wealth, expand populations, and so on. Wars have been fought by kings, sects, castes, tribes, and even CEO's of major corporations.

Even if the religion is not of paramount concern to your story or directly detailed or expressed in the story, there may be religious themes running through the story because of allegory (a moral tale) or symbolism. For example the theme of good winning over evil or that crime never pays. 

Your story might have a creation myth, or other myths. Such themes show up often in fantasy fiction, literature, film, and television.

Religions vary in practices and tenets, yet, many religions share the same or similar goals (like peace). As I've mentioned in past posts, you-the-writer may need to know a great deal about your story world—and religion or religious beliefs are only one aspect—but the reader will only need to know why religion motivates or affects the Major Story Characters.

Next Month — June — Governments, caste systems

SPECIAL NOTE: I need your help. I recently learned my Facebook page was not an author's page and have created one — I would sincerely appreciate you taking a minute to stop by and "love" or "like" the page or some of the content so this site can be found by the Internet-bots that glean content from web pages. Many thanks!


Monday, April 1, 2019

April 2019 — World Building - Society Norms

This is Part 4 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings 
◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

World Building  Society Norms

Whether the setting is a starscape world or a medieval or primitive one, whatever is in the world's setting must suit the world not distort the world and make it seem like something unbelievable.

A story world may be different from reality. That world might ghosts, gods, myths, dinosaur theme parks, the supernatural, wizardry, the metaphysical and surreal, the oneiric (suggesting dreams), or the unlikely. A story world might be a cosmos of a stage for a universe or star system. A story world might be hidden in another dimension or beneath the earth above it. However, the narrating character and all the characters who inhabit the story stage will find nothing surprising or unusual or odd in that world because they were born into it. They will not stop to explain things.

Let me say again — The narrating character lives in their story world on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, second-by-second basis and have done so for their entire lifetime. Where they live is "ordinary" to them. So, think about their "everyday" life and make sure nothing counters the facts of that character's existence or the existence of their world.

Never forget that readers are logical people. To get them to suspend their disbelief and go along with your story world and its inhabitants is never easy.

So logically, when world building, everything begins with a setting. A story's setting is the story's environment, its physical environment. That setting is a stage on which the story is enacted. 

Although you as the writer need to know the big picture of the planet or universe or realm or country where your story is set, the reader needs only a fraction of that data because your story will be focused on a particular place on that world or in that universe for a scene.

Nonetheless, you'll likely need a notebook or file folder with all sorts of details of flora and fauna, sketches and maps of the planet's terrain (or that planet's proximity to other heavenly bodies), and data—real facts and extrapolations of facts that will pertain to science, industry, agriculture, and technology. 

Such records help you avoid mistakes. You can reuse the information for other stories set in that same universe. Thus you maintain a logical order of time and history.  

In keeping with the world, there will be layers ranging from the simple to the highly complex. Here are questions to ask and think about for those layers (these are in no particular order):

What is the landscape—the actual, physical terrain?

What type of society developed and how? 

What in the past now affects the present or will impact the future? 

Are there any ethnic groups? 

What religions evolved and now hold sway over society? (More on this in May's post.)

What wars have been fought or what affect did past wars have on society now? 

What are or have been the priorities of society when it comes to the safety of its people? 

Are there laws to enforce obedience? Govern magic? Govern trade? Govern travel? Are there penalties for going against the reining society or government or deviating from a status quo? 

Is there justice for one and all or justice at any cost?

As to a new war, is it to be avoided? Is it peace at any cost?

What level of dissension is tolerated?

Think about the infrastructure of the society. Think about food sources, shelter, and clothing. What do the people eat? What do they wear? What's considered valuable or a luxury item? What happens to the garbage and bodily wastes? What about medicine and health care practices?

What's the mode of transportation being used, being developed? 

What is the economy based on? What type of money or barter is the norm? Who holds the money and why? What dominates the marketplace (Agriculture? Technology? Magic? Guilds? The Military?)

What is the technological advances that have shaped the society or the world? 

What are the politics? Do dictators rule? Is it a democracy? Who sways the masses? Is free speech and news controlled?

In this world, what will affect the characters the most? (Think about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.)

Remember a world is never static.  Civilizations rise and fall. It's survival of the fittest. Greed and dominance over others drives change — things are always changing.

But remember, people hate change. What is it about the world in which your Protagonist lives that they love and hate? Will your Protagonist defy the value system of his or her society or government? If not, why not? If so, why?

Bear in mind that story worlds which capture reader's hearts are ones where details— specific details— make the world seem alive and very real. Present the specific details through the eyes of ones who live in that world—your Major Story Characters—and readers will be drawn into the story.

Continue to write well, tell a story well, and strive for a strong sense of place when you develop all your world and scene settings so the society is believable.

Next Month:  Part 5  - MayReligion and Belief Systems

SPECIAL NOTE: I have recently learned that my Facebook page was not an author's page (long story) and so I've spent the past couple of weeks setting up my Facebook Author Page—  — I would very much appreciate it if you would stop by and "love" or "like" some of the content so this site can be found by the autobots that glean content from web pages. I sincerely thank you for  your help. 


Friday, March 1, 2019

2019 - March — The Protagonist's POV-Viewpoint of Their World

Part 3 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings 
◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved  

There is a kind of belief among my students that things that are true are interesting. But most things that are true are not interesting. Four pages describing how I got up and brushed my teeth in the morning would kill you. - Alistair MacLeod

As a writer, your job when opening a story is to hook and then immerse your reader into the story world. So, it's important to understand that when a reader reads a story, they should hear the voice of The Story's Narrator.

It doesn't matter if the Narrating Voice is that of the author, an omniscient God On High, the Fly-on-the-Wall, a Storyteller, or one of the primary characters (Protagonist, Antagonist, or Romantic Lead, etc.). What matters is that the voice be highly opinionated and have a distinct diction, vocabulary, and syntax and be different from every other character in the story.

It is especially important when a character narrates that their voice reflects their POV (Point of View) and Viewpoint, which is their unique personality and biases in how they view the situation (even the setting details) thus heightening, reinforcing, or even changing how they feel emotionally about what's going on.

To achieve the best narrative, a writer uses fiction techniques of personification, metaphors, similes, and pathetic fallacy. (Pathetic fallacy is the assigning of human feelings and responses to non-living things or animals, even the weather.)

Of course, while witnessing or perceiving his or her environment, the scene, or the situation, The Story's Narrator will be judgmental, open- or closed-minded, ethical or unethical, biased, perhaps bigoted, and show their personal prejudices.

So, how does this affect setting? Answer: It's in the details.

You see, that POV-Viewpoint Story Narrator should not catalog a room's layout from left to right or right to left, or even stop to give an information dump about the setting. Instead, some sensory perception will attract the immediate attention of the narrator and that item is called the "dominant impression" of a room, landscape, or whatever the setting happens to be.  

Topping the list of attention factors for a dominant impression is light. 

Lighting has to do with what can be seen or what cannot be seen. So, what is the setting's lighting like? Brilliant, blinding sunlight that forces the heroine to shade her eyes? Or is it the darkness or shadows that hides a mouse, a person, an object, a vampire, a stalker, etc.?

Think of lighting as the difference between walking into Notre Dame Cathedral and walking into your local mall. Both are enormous buildings, but the way the light and sounds echo are very different and affect how you and your reader feels emotionally (happy, sad, frustrated, angry, etc.). 

Next on the list of sensory impressions that dominate is smell. What does the narrator immediately smell? Is it sweet, tangy, sour, pleasant, or foul? Why that particular smell over other smells in the setting? 

Take for example the Protagonist entering an old house. The first thing that strikes him is the scent of lemon furniture polish coming from an antique Queen Anne sideboard. The smell draws up warm memories of his grandmother's home and her lemon-scented furniture. He has a good feeling about being in that house and will carry that good feeling into his meeting with the person he came to see.

But say the Protagonist enters his brother-in-law's garage and inhales fumes from the riding lawn mower that's idling. Instead of standing and cataloging what else is in the garage, the Protagonist mutters something about his brother being inept and heads for the machine to turn it off. En route, he must step over a haphazardly coiled, mud-streaked water hose and trip, smack his shin on the lawn tractor's torque bar-hitch, then cuss, and perhaps dance a little jig to sidestep an open, three-tiered, tool box where tools are scattered about on the floor. 

Now you have a character in motion, in action, in an interesting setting, and doing something important. And that character has a goal, which is to get to the machine to turn it off because it's a safety hazard.

Note that only a few items were used to give the impression of a cluttered garage. The scenario by the POV-Viewpoint narrator has been chronological, moment-by-moment, and in a cause-and-effect sequence. This garage setting also has been presented in a far more interesting way than from left to right and right to left.

Better yet, and based on what has been revealed (shown), the reader makes a judgement about the brother-in-law's character— i.e., because he's careless about leaving the lawn-mower running, what else will he be careless about and what danger will such behavior put the Protagonist in?

Next might be sound. What is the exact sound? Is it the creak of floorboards or the crack of frozen wood decking being walked on? Is it the splash of a dog through a puddle of water? Or is it the sound of silence that either reassures or terrifies?

Next is taste. Using similes and metaphors helps the reader "taste" the poison, or blood, or salty-sea air, and can help distinguish between liquors like whisky and a margarita. The idea is to help the reader experience the taste, which brings the props in a setting to life for the reader.

As to touch? It can as light as cobwebs or the sting of a viper. It could also be the blast of an inferno's heat or a blizzard's wind-whipped, pelting snow. So, what does the POV-Viewpoint narrator feel or how do they react?

As you can see, sensory perceptions help define a setting, but the real impact comes from the reaction of The Story's Narrator. That's why it's important to let the narrator notice only dominant setting details that are important to the on-going action and not stop the story's forward movement to dump in details.

Equally important is that any dominant detail used will cause a reaction, a memory, or evoke an opinion from the narrator. That, in turn, affects the reader or guides the reader in drawing the conclusion the writer intended. 

So, to create mood and tone and to breathe more life into the setting and story, show through the POV-Viewpoint narrator. Reveal more, tell less, and blend setting details with the action.


Next Month   April — World Building, Society Norms


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