Be sure to include detail within your setting that relates to time. For example, describe a setting that takes place in summer. A summer that is above normal temperatures could pose a threat. Or, maybe it doesn’t pose a threat, but it does give a clear indication of what time of year it is. Maybe the heat is depicted by way of the droopy leaves of the plants on the patio of the house your character lives in. Is it winter? Everyone knows that winter can present risks as well.
Awaken Your Setting: Part 1
Create your setting by way of your narrator’s Point of View. Doing this will also instill feeling into your fictitious place. When that happens, your readers will feel it too, and that’s what you want. It keeps them reading.
Setting (Paint Your Picture Continued)
Where are you? What does that place look like? What feeling does it convey? Is it essential to the story? Did something significant occur there?
When you are selecting settings for your story, the reader must know where the story is taking place. More importantly, they want to ‘see’ it and ‘feel’ it. You may have just read the previous sentence and said, “Well, duhhh.” I kid you not. There are some writers out there who don’t pay enough attention to their setting. It leaves the reader scratching their head. I’ve read books where I have had to back track because the setting wasn’t paid its due diligence. I don’t know about you, but I picture in my head what I’m reading. It plays out like a movie. If I can’t see it, the story lacks that flow. Once you hook the reader on the first page, you want to keep them.
You’re creating a scenes within your novel. You want your audience to not only know what is going on but to feel what is going on as well. Is it enough to just describe the action, setting, and characters? No. Emotion must play a large role if your readers are going to keep reading. You want your readers to feel your character’s vulnerability, excitement, or sadness (and more). So, how do you do this?
When you’re watching a TV show or movie, you are able to SEE the characters’ emotions, but in a book readers aren’t readily able to SEE that, so they need to be SHOWN. Words aren’t enough, so we will need to insert some body language.
My previous post talked about emotions as it related to atmosphere/setting. Let’s go a little further with this; specifically, the scene itself. A scene occurs within a setting, so your descriptions of the actions and body language in conjunction with the surroundings will bring forth that emotion. The result? When done well, these emotions will ‘touch’ the reader and further draw them into your story.
Below are some short examples of visuals depicting emotion.
Sadness = downcast, a tear escaping down one’s cheek, sagging shoulders, shuffling feet with hands in pockets….
Excitement = smiling eyes, hurrying and bustling around trying to get ready to meet a particular someone they’d been wanting to meet for a long time, jumping up and down, a victory dance…
Relaxed = warm breeze, deep breath, a soft sound such as waves strolling onto shore, the rustling of leaves as the breeze whispers through them…
Anger = a blank stare, pursed lips, contorted face with squinted eyes, talking through one’s teeth, redness in the face…
Embarrassment = blushing cheeks, shy smile, glancing around the room as everyone stares at them, running out of the room…
Danger/Foreboding = a twisting in one’s gut, something is too neat, an unexplained noise, the lighting, shadows…
There is so much more that can be added to these examples, but you get the idea. It isn’t easy to incorporate emotions into a scene. You might have to experiment and play around with words before you FEEL that you have the right wording that will effectively convey just the right emotions to your readers.
Atmospheric Emotion Continued
On (April 8, 2021) I posted a photo of a lightning storm and titled the post Atmospheric Emotion. In your writing you will need to convey emotions to your atmosphere/setting. This then creates a connection to your readers because they start to feel these emotions too. Typically, darkness or a dark room conveys foreboding or unease. A warm setting with trees, green grass, a cozy cabin with a small pond depicts serenity. But what if you want that calm serene scene to depict foreboding without the darkness? What can you insert into that scene to create that foreboding? Perhaps it’s too calm. Maybe the friend of yours who lives there is no where to be found. Her belongings and car are there, but she is not. Her cellphone is sitting on the patio table, so calling her won’t do any good. Or, perhaps he/she was there a minute ago and now he/she is not. He/she vanished in the midst of this calm setting.
When it comes to emotions and projecting them onto a setting, you must go beyond narration. Just telling your reader the back yard was creepy or gave your main character a creepy feeling or a sense of foreboding, is not enough. They must FEEL that sense. These emotional projections from a story to its reader(s) is part of what makes for a great book/story.
I hadn’t been in my friend, Elliot’s, basement before. Elliot had always been so upbeat all the time; full of jokes. But the black walls and purple lights were the opposite of my friend’s personality, so it was creepy.
I hadn’t been in my friend, Elliot’s, basement before. I never understood why until now. In the past Elliot’s upbeat demeanor magnetized others. People drew to him. So, my breath caught in my chest, when I reached the bottom of his basement steps and flicked on the light. A deep purple glow radiated throughout the room in front of me. The color of the walls appeared to be black, but the purple light made it impossible to tell. A kind of mist seeped through a few cracks in the walls. It hit my nostrils and a dank stench reached my stomach, giving me the dry heaves. Peering to the left, a cot stood in the far corner. Was it my imagination, or was there an indentation of a body on the one and a half inch mattress? I inched that way to take a closer look. I came within five feet, and the indentation moved. No body was visible…..
I took my tea, opened the sliding glass door and stepped onto the back deck. The grass had been freshly mowed the day before and the flower gardens weeded. A well kept yard makes for a relaxing mood. I spotted the lounge chair to my right, walked over to it, and sat down.
I lifted my tea to my nose and inhaled the ginger fragrance, causing me to smile at the sweet scent. The sun peeked out from behind a cloud and shown through the sliding glass door. I opened it and stepped out onto the back deck. A warm breeze whispered by and pushed my shoulder length hair back as I took in the freshly cut lawn and sweet scented flowers. Standing there taking in all of the beauty reminded of a mental massage of sorts. I stepped over to the cushioned lounge chair and sunk in, closing my eyes and relishing the clapping of the leaves on the trees as the breeze moved them.
In Example 1 the bad sample tells us that the character feels creepy, but do you the reader feel it? In don’t. We get that the main character feels creepy, but WE don’t feel as creeped out as he/she does. We don’t even believe he/she feels creeped out because the seriousness of the situation doesn’t come across.
In the good sample of Example 1 we feel the main character’s emotions of fear and apprehension, and we feel his disbelief of a friend who is normally upbeat but has a basement that’s dark and dreary. We are as creeped out as he/she is.
In Example 2 the bad sample is rather mundane and stale. We understand the environment is relaxed in nature but it doesn’t come across in the writing. The environment doesn’t evoke emotion at all.
However, the good sample of Example 2 conveys the imagery needed to evoke the relaxed and warm atmosphere to the reader. We can actually identify with this because most of us have experienced this type of relaxation. But, it wasn’t told to us as in the bad sample. It was SHOWN to us. Did you feel relaxed? I did.
Overall, emotions play a huge role in any story, especially when it comes to atmosphere/setting. They draw your readers into the text and keep them there. That’s where you want them, and you want them there to stay.
What Lies Beyond
In December 2019 I wrote an article entitled Writing Stability. In that article I mentioned keeping a writing binder for the writing project you’re working on. It really doesn’t matter if you write by the seat of your pants or plan your novel out in advance, a binder to keep all of your information straight can only serve to help you.
Possible Sections to Include in Your Binder
- Characters— This section will include everything about each of your characters. Possible types of information include: physical features, likes/dislikes, occupation, their role in the story, fears, character arcs, just to name a few. You could even create subsections for each character if you like.
- Settings— Included here can be maps, setting descriptions, list of places and their significance, etc.
- Story— I have a section in my binder with this label. What I use it for are ideas for my novel. Sometimes I’ll do a free write or I’ll write a quick plot summary for an idea.
- Style Sheet— Here I keep a style sheet to keep the technical details consistent. For example, are you going to write your numbers out or not, make a list of words that MUST be capitalized consistently throughout, names and dates of events (It’s easy to lose track of this information when you’re writing). This is just a small list. What you decide you need to go in this section is up to you. When you’re editing later, this section will be your friend.
- Doodling— This would be where you jot down any revision ideas or play around with language (If you’re writing fantasy, making up words can be fun).
You can always add to the above list. It depends on what kind of story you’re writing. I write urban fantasy, so I have additional sections such as, realms, fantasy creatures, photos, and questions. I love my binder because it frees up room in my head (kind of like a memory extension for my brain, LOL). If you don’t want to use a binder, a journal works well too. I’ve used both.
The Jigsaw Puzzle
I like to think of writing a novel much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces and there is so much to think about. Placement of each piece/part is key if it’s going to fit with the rest of the ‘picture’. One wrong placement can make the rest of the story appear out of place. So, where do you start? Better yet, what do you start with? That really is up to you. As long as all the pieces fit together and the ‘picture’ at the end fits together, how you get there doesn’t matter. After all, we’re all different.
Still, there is so much to think about. Please see the list below.
- Story Structure
- Scene structure
- Point of View
Generally speaking, these are the biggest elements that go into the creation of a novel. It’s quite a bit to keep track of while you’re writing. For the first time author writing their first book it can be daunting. One might ask, “How do you work with all of them as you’re writing?” It’s simple. You don’t. Yup, I said it. You don’t. What you do instead is this:
- Write the first draft to get your story down. Start from the beginning and work toward the end. Start from the middle and work your way to the end then write the beginning. Write the end then the beginning and then the end. Whichever way you go about getting that first draft done is up to you. Just get that done first without worrying about the particulars listed above. Put if away for a few weeks when you finish the first draft. This will keep your mind fresh when you go back to write draft two.
- In draft two look at the story structure. Make sure make sure each Act has the appropriate information in it (Please see my post from July 17, 2020 entitled Story Structure in Three Acts). Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a wealth of information. I highly recommend it.
- Go through each scene. Is the structure of each what it should be? There are two types: 1. Action 2. Reaction (Please stay tuned for a later post on this topic).
- Here is where I would go through and look at the character development of your Main Character. There must be character growth from the beginning to the end. Here is where their character flaw comes into play. Remember, by the end of the book they will overcome their flaw. How they do that is part of their growth.
- Setting is huge. Readers need to get a good idea/picture of where your story takes place, what it looks like, and how it’s connected.
- Point of View is a huge one. You don’t want to confuse your readers by accidentally moving from first to third person or vice versa. So, choose a point of view and stick with it. Go back and make sure it’s consistent throughout.
- Voice encompasses more than one thing. It incudes diction, detail, imagery (through description or use of simile or metaphor), dialogue, tone, and syntax (the way words are arranged). As you read through your manuscript looking for these elements as it relates to voice, you might find you need to add something here or there or change the way a character said something.
- Theme goes along with the main message you are trying to convey to your reader. What is it you want them to learn by the end of the book? Do you accomplish this?
- PLOT HOLES. This is huge. After all is said and done, please read through your whole manuscript and look for those pesky inconsistencies. Readers will find them and you don’t want them to. Keep a style sheet where you keep track of details you need to remember throughout your story. Your 31 year old MC can NOT be 42 in the last half of the book (unless they’ve been lied to and that’s part of the story). Her/his birthday you had mentioned on page 20 as being January 8, 1972 can’t be mentioned later on page 245 as being March 23, 1974. I just won’t work.
- The editing is the very last thing that’s done. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. This comes last before publishing.
As you can tell, these tasks are not done in one swoop. They are done one at a time (generally). Hey, if you are able to focus on one or more at once that’s fine too. The point is take your time. Focus, do not rush. The story won’t grow legs and walk away. It’s yours, so take your time and make it the best YOU you can make it. By doing this, all of the pieces will fit together, so that when someone else looks at it (reads it), they will be looking at something that will stay with them and make them come back for more.