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.

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