One of my favourite things about taking writing workshops with school children is finding those brilliant examples or summarising phrases that capture a 'truth' about writing. My favourite at a class yesterday came during a discussion about setting. Plenty of writers provide more setting than the story needs. Plenty of writers provide too much detail that bogs the story down when the reader just wants to know what happens next. Sometimes we do it to show off how much research was done, sometimes it's because we feel the need to provide this really detailed complete picture 'cos it looks great. Sometimes its a substitue for plot - look at all my shiny fabulous world building, doesn't it feel real, even though all my characters are just standing round doin' nothin'. But folks, setting should be included on a 'need to know basis'. If it isn't relevant, you probably don't need it. In my latest novel on which I have just completed a little rewrite and spruce up and which is to be published this December I worried quite a bit about how little setting I provide. I kept writing and wondering and worrying, but the story just didn't demand more setting than I was giving. Sure you know what time of day it is and what season. You know where you are in terms of home or school or the skate park or a friend's place. But there is little additonal detail about the town the story is located in and barely anything about the country. It wasn't relevant to the story. It felt wrong to add it. Rather than advancing the plot or explaining the change in the character it got in the way.
There are times when a lot of information about setting is necessary. From the size and length of that mountain range to the way the locals produce their food. If you create a new world, we won't know anything about it except what you tell us. Go for broke and build that world. But the 'need to know basis' rule still applies. If you story is set in the past or the future, then we will need to know how the world worked/works to understand how the characters behave in it. But the 'need to know basis' rule still applies. And one of the weird-ass phenomenons of writing is that all that extra detail that you thought of or researched or developed, that you have to leave out because it isn't relevant to the action and doesn't propel the story along acts like the bit of an iceberg that sits below the water. Although the reader only reads the visible bit above the water line they sense the bit below the water. Because that bit below the water informs the visible bit above and even though you don't get to spell it out, it has influenced what you did choose to put in and the reader can tell. It supports the credibility of your story and you know if some kid ever asks you to explain that bit in your story you WILL know the answer because it was something you thought about even though it never made it to the final version.
Educational Resource: A Winter's Day in 1939
- Educational Resource: The Were-Nana
- Educational Resource: The Half Life of Ryan Davis
- Educational Resource: Made With Love
- Educational Resource: The House That Went to Sea
- Educational Resource: A Winter's Day in 1939
- Educational Resource: While You Are Sleeping
- Educational Resource: The Song of Kauri
- Educational Resource: Fuzzy Doodle
- Book List - Complete List of my Publications