OK, this is the final instalment and given it feels like telling rather than interacting, next week I’ll be controversial again!
But since I’m here…nature and settings.
Seasons
The time of year may be incidental to your adventure, but even so, you may be able to use it to dramatic effect. First you should consider the role of the seasons. Do they, in some way, link to the story? Is there a birth or death for example? Is a character in the autumn of their years?
Secondly, you can use atypical weather to denote something is either very good – or very wrong.
A sunny day in the middle of winter spells optimism.
A downpour in the height of summer casts an inevitable gloom.
The weather can be the portent of something to happen (or reflect what is happening).
You don’t need to handle the link too heavy-handed. The best links are natural and appear almost incidental. The readers will make the link subconsciously (believe me they will) and that is in your favour.
Getting it right
Unless you know specific aspects of weather intimately, don’t guess at them. Do your research. Unless you’ve experienced a hurricane or a blizzard, you don’t really know what it’s like.
It’s a bit like people who tell you they’ve got the flu. They have a cold.
People who have ever truly had the flu know the difference. And it annoys them when people describe their sniffle as the flu. Similarly, poorly described settings that involve snow will frustrate people who live in areas that get a lot of snowfall. As will anyone who reads an attempt to get the weather right by guesswork.
Weather as an event
If the first two reasons for using nature and the weather as to either provide a backdrop or to act as a metaphor, the third option is arguably more important.
Sometimes the weather is either a major aspect of the story – the impending arrival of a tornado or the effects of an earthquake – or it is a factor in the story. The blizzard in Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ is a prime example here as it keeps the characters isolated.
How do you use mood in setting?
From time to time the setting doesn’t add anything to the story in itself. You may think that adding any words to the setting gets in the way. At this point, it is worth considering if the story has enough ‘mood’ to carry the tale, or if the appropriate setting can add to the mood.
It could be as simple as the darkness of night, the sound of distant thunder or the desolation of the wilderness.
You can’t have one…
Just like a horse and carriage, you can’t have setting without a nod to culture.
The culture doesn’t change the setting specifically – but it does dictate how the characters see and interact with the setting. And it affects the way the players view the characters or the NPCs.
A boardroom full of men and women could be the setting.
As you read that sentence, you may interpret nothing strange.
If the story was set in the 1920s, the culture of the era dictates that either the women were visitors, or in subservient roles, or this was not a typical boardroom.
The setting hasn’t changed, but our interpretation of it has because of the prevailing culture. Moreover, we will change our view of the characters in the room as a result.
What’s the best way to avoid clichés?
‘It was a dark and gloomy night.’
I’m sure it was, but a reader deserve better than this.
It’s a phrase that sounds so bored it makes the reader think the writer can’t be bothered. And if the writer can’t be bothered, why should the readers?
The confused metaphor
‘It was a virgin field, pregnant with possibilities.’
I learned that one at University. This isn’t just confused; it’s a mixed metaphor. Be aware that your description has to make sense.
‘The stench of body odour overwhelms you. It reminds you of…’
Unless it’s really important, does it matter what it reminds the readers of? They got the idea already – body odour. It’s unpleasant. It stinks. Enough already. TMI…
The particular fragrance of body odour isn’t particularly necessary. Unless of course it is essential to the story. Otherwise, credit the players with some imagination. Having said that, you could introduce the smell before we know it is body odour. That would be valid.
The overly obscure metaphor
Some writers are aware of the boring options and are clever enough not to confuse the writer, but they want to be inventive.
‘He stood on the deck of the ship like a goalkeeper waiting for a free-kick to be taken.’
Ten out of ten for originality, but zero out of ten for comprehension. What on earth does it mean?
Trying too hard to make the metaphor original also makes it unintelligible. And in a Star Wars setting, who’s heard of football (or soccer for those that know about it but can’t actually play it)?
What do the characters know?
The writer is in the head of the character, and so they must see the setting through the same eyes. Would an urban doctor know every type of tree in the woods? Would he know an antique clock from a reproduction?
Be aware of how you introduce the setting and which descriptions you use to allow the reader to see the scenery. You shouldn’t short-change the readers to keep the description honest, but you have to be descriptive too. If your character doesn’t know the names of the trees, describe their colours, their shapes, their leaves etc.
By the same token, the doctor wouldn’t pay much attention to the trappings of an operating theatre. Although a novice might wonder at the machinery or instruments, the doctor’s interest would be in the patient or the type of operation about to be performed.
What do your characters feel?
We often perceive setting based upon our own preconceptions and experiences. One man’s idyllic deserted beach is another man’s desolate wasteland. As noted previously, the setting hasn’t changed – but the description has.
It’s also worth noting that our emotional state will affect how we view our surroundings. Being nothing more complicated than happy will make us more positively disposed to our setting. It also affects what we notice.
OK...I'm done :)