Often writing challenges authors with the classic paradox of situation description. How much is enough to aptly describe a plot surroundings is a debate amongst writers for a long time?
It can be the house the protagonist is approaching or a barren land the lead person is traversing on. Storytelling often needs readers to appreciate the plot’s backdrop. The settings, in a subconscious way, adds a realness to the narration.
While undoubtedly describing the context enhances the recount, overdoing or writing too little takes the shine away from tale-telling. Maintaining a fine balance differentiate a good writer from the crowd. In this post, I will share my experience about the usage of setting description. This is solely based on the learnings I harnessed while writing my first book, and by no means a scholarly advice. Please leave your suggestion, ideas, and thoughts in the thread below to enhance the learnings.
Consider the following situations
- You are describing a chasing scene. Your protagonist is on the run, trying to escape from some goons. You want to make the situation appear intense and nerve wrecking, with the readers gaping to know what happens next. So how should you orient your narration? Should your sole focus be on the characters or should you attempt explaining the terrain as well?
- The protagonist is meeting someone for the first time in a house. Assume it is an important meeting that will reveal part of the suspense you have built thus far in your story. The protagonist is approaching the house. Should you focus on the conversation between them or should you also find space in your writing to describe the house location, surroundings, and interiors?
Before I provide my point of view for the above situations, let me explain the ground rules I follow in my writing:
- Building A Plot: when building a plot describing the surroundings is extremely important. You want to ensure your reader is consumed in your fictitious (or non-fictitious based on the genre of your story) diegesis as if they are living through it. What is the shade of weather? Is there any semblance of weather to the character’s state of mind? What about the place? Is it an urban location or a desolate scene? What about the people? Is the place crowded or an isolated location in a faraway place? In developing a plot describing the character’s surroundings is extremely crucial to get your reader’s attention.
- Character’s Thought Process: sometimes your story’s character is in constant battle with his/her mind about a past incidence or situational circumstances. In such settings, the debate between competing thoughts is more important than the surroundings the character is in. If the writing gives more weight to the character’s milieu than the battling thoughts your protagonist is going through, there is a high probability your readers will get disengage. In such situations giving importance to character’s perturbations should take the center stage and everything else should either be ignored or kept to bare minimum.
- Chasing scenes: chasing scenes are usually the most difficult ones to explain. While on a run the surroundings play an important role, providing too many details can make the chase appear pale. Chasing are gripping and fast-moving. At every turn, there is despair for some and hope for few. The thumb rule I follow is to keep the surroundings’ explanation enough to be enticing. Oscillate between the character and everything else to keep the reader engaged and intrigued.
- Traveling to a new place: when the character, particularly the protagonist, is traveling to a new place. Take some time to describe the place. It always helps the reader to settle down with the new ambiance and help flow into the new dimension that your story is submerging to. However, ensure that the description of place compliments the character’s thought process. Avoid providing excruciating details of the place, unless it is required for the setting, otherwise, you may lose your reader’s interest.
I took help of the above scenarios to provide my perspective of writing about situations. The list by no means is exhaustive, but are select few to help explain my thoughts. Let us now revisit the two situations I outline in the beginning of my post:
- Chasing Scene: “The road was deserted. Not a soul was visible and the desolate afternoon was occasional battered by the roar of the passing wind. Amanda was running with all her might, unaware how far away the goons were from her. At times she was tempted to take shelter in the random patches of brier that kept appearing in a haphazard way across the desolate road. But every time the thought occurred she decided otherwise. For the hope of finding a passing soul for her rescue was tempting enough then the respite of any temporary shelter.” As you can see I blend the surroundings explanation with the chase. The circumstantial navigation details are important, but so is the character’s state of mind.
- The protagonist in a house: “The house was standing alone dilapidated. The wrought iron gates were rust ridden and almost in the verge of giving away the long-standing guard, it braved over time. The ghostly appearance of the house had an uncanny eerie as if welcoming Amanda with a wicked smile. Reluctantly she pushed the gate and it broke the silence with an awkward squealing noise. It was a tall metal door. Though the house was in shambles, the access to the abode was guarded as if it was a bastion. She knocked the door. No one appeared. She knocked again. The silence continued. The intensity of her knock kept increasing with every passing minute, but the door stood there inquietude. A sense of dejection loomed her. Frustrated, she turned away from the door asphyxiated and exhausted, when a slow cracking noise surged back the diminishing hope with extreme urgency. She turned around and saw an old frail figure appearing from behind the guarded door.” Another example of leveraging the surroundings to enhance the character’s approach to a situation. When the protagonist enters the house – probably you can more focus on the conversation and the characters.
Hope you find the blog useful. I will eagerly wait to learn from your experiences as well. Leave your thoughts and comments in the discussion box below.
Copyright © Shantanu Baruah