Tag Archives: setting

Droppings of Various Kinds

I just finished reading the newest Alex Rider book and loved every second of it.  Anthony Horowitz has done it again–even better.  And  yet as I read, one thing stuck out in my writer’s mind.  A reference to Obama. 

Authors might use major events to ground their work in a certain time period while others use trends or slang to add authenticity.  Music is another popular reference that helps readers relate to the setting and characters.

I’ll call these instances “droppings”.

Much like the mouse droppings that littered our garage for our annual spring cleaning.  In past years, I’ve seen a dropping or two in expected locations.  However, this year, our garage appears to have housed not one rodent, but an entire colony of them.

They had “dropped” more than enough clues for us to realize our geriatric lab hadn’t really been eating all $52.00 worth of dog food each month.  Instead, we had provided our furry little guests with an all-inclusive winter resort while our poor canine suffered through hunger pangs. 

And so I got to thinking.  I’m okay with one or two droppings.  Really, life does go on, even for tiny little field mice looking to snug down during our near-arctic cold fronts. 

One or two are virtually unobtrusive.  These droppings ground us in the reality that our garage is not mouse proof, that there are more creatures in this world than us and that we must share a certain amount of our resources with others less fortunate.

But more than a dropping or two and I get a whole lot of grouchy.  Namely because I can’t ignore them and have to sweep them up.  Which, by the way, I don’t recommend doing in flip flops, as the droppings tend to get stuck between your toes.  Everything has to be moved, burned disinfected and put back in a more orderly fashion.

Kind of like editing. 

One or two references per novel is enough to ground us in the reality of setting, character and time frame.  They are a nice addition to any book.  However, an entire novel littered with references becomes tedious and might make the average reader a whole lot of grouchy, as if they have mouse droppings between their toes.

Some genres demand more droppings than others, like historical fiction.  Others seem to sprinkle droppings around just for fun and the novel feels like an all-inclusive at one of the poshest, dunce camps on earth–as if the author is trying to impress the reader by name-dropping, but the reader is too stupid to pick up on it. 

What I took away from Crocodile Tears is that one reference is enough.  By including an Obama tid-bit in the book, it indicated a current or post-presidency time frame.  The use of Trafalgar Square grounded me in the setting without beating me over the head–and I’ve never been there.  An i-pod gave me insight to the characters.

Anything more and I would have started skipping pages.  And that is the last thing any writer wants to happen.  Because dropping a reader’s attention is the worst kind of dropping imaginable. 

As a reader, do you get distracted by too many real-life references or do you need them to help you visualize the book better?

As a writer, what types of droppings do you tend to leave in your manuscripts?  Do you over-use some or not use them enough? 

P.S. I will cull my comments today and name the winner of my Slumber Party Bash contest tomorrow!  Thanks for playing.

Into the Fog

Another blanket of fog covered my little corner of the world yesterday.  I say another because this weather pattern has been frequent this winter.  As I embarked on my taxi rounds, I got to thinking about fog–in the novel sense.

I might be wrong when I say this, as I haven’t a shred of proof to back it up, but it seems to me that fog is the most used weather pattern in literature.  Sure the perfect storm might roll in or a blizzard may blow two almost love-birds into a cabin for a weekend.  But fog is universal.

It happens in California, London, New York and New Zealand.  It clouds up mountain tops, drifts across the roads, surrounds, engulfs, rolls in, wraps, settles, lifts, covers, swathes, shifts, hides, steals, seeps and slithers.  It performs all sorts of amazing feats that other weather doesn’t do. 

It is also synonomous with our emotions.  Which could possibly make it the most cliched weather pattern in fiction.  It’s an easy out and the perfect metaphor when things go awry.

Weather can set the tone, wreak havoc, create distractions and impede progress.  It can be the backdrop for an entire novel, or simply the ominous setting for a single chapter.  I’ve used it.  Not fog, but blizzards, tornadoes and thunder storms.  Cloudy days appear in my manuscripts and generally have some connection to my MC’s emotional state.

Agent Mary Kole discussed weather on her blog about a month back.  She stated (and I’m paraphrasing) that when people have nothing to talk about, they talk about the weather.  Since reading that, I’ve found it to be true.  And since I live in Minnesota and the weather has been interesting this past year, I have caught myself more often than not discussing the weather with acquaintances. 

What does this say about our manuscripts when they are littered with rain clouds and fog?  Are we treating our readers as acquaintances or best friends and confidants?

“Wow, some fog out there.”

“Yeah, I could barely see the mailbox when I drove right by it.”

“Took me fifteen minutes longer to get into town, it was so thick.”

“Worse than split pea soup.”

That’s boring in real life.  Reading it is torturous.  Yet it happens, because weather can be such a good barometer for the events in a book.  Over-used, however, and it loses its impact altogether.

How do you use weather in your writing?  Have your characters ever discussed it in an actual conversation?  Does fog play a part in any of your written works?  If so, was it used as setting, an incident that needed to be overcome or a metaphor for your MC’s feelings?

Which weather pattern do you find most frequently in the books you read?  Which do you like least and why?

The Case for Little Description

My DH doesn’t read fiction.  Since we’ve been together, he’s read four novels.  All to appease me.  While on vacation, he started another book.  So, you may be thinking, almost five books in 24 years doesn’t exactly make him a literary expert.  However, his incredible insight the other day makes him the perfect voice of reason for less is more in description.

On our way up north he, at the wheel and me riding shotgun with my nose in a book, says, “You know the crazy thing about reading?”

“Hmmmmmm.”

“When I started reading Insert Last Novel Title Here, I could picture the house perfectly.”

My ears perked up and I set aside my Latest Novel.  “How so?”

DH went on to explain that as he read, he saw the inside of the living room right down to the color on the walls.  The Dear Author had not given him this information in paragraphs of detail.  Instead, he had simply written that the bodies were found in the living room next to the couch and in front of the fireplace.  He also walked DH up the stairs to the little girls’ room.  Not through ornate words and adjective cluttered sentence, but rather one step at a time via emotions and actions. 

DA allowed DH to fill in the blanks.  In his mind, DH was there, in the house with the characters.  He was invested in the atmosphere because of the LACK of description.

I prodded him to continue.  “A bar, for example, should be a bar.  With a certain kind of music.  Smokey or not, light or dim.  That’s enough information for me to know exactly what kind of place it is.”

Dim and smokey.  Immediately I was transported into every Legion bar that I’ve ever seen.  Admittedly that’s not a lot, but I knew that DH and I would end up in the same bar.

Bon Jovi blaring through the juke box elicits a whole different atmosphere.  A place with ceramic floors, a younger crowd and plastic glasses filled with cheap beer tapped from the keg.  Oh yeah, and a few older, haven’t-left-the-80’s, mulletted men sitting alone in corner booths oggling the Gen Xer’s in their tight jeans and tighter tank tops.

Country music wafting through the air along with thin streams of smoke puts me in a place with wooden floors and the stale scent of beer, surrounded by scruffy men and poofy-haired, cleavaged women. 

I don’t know where you would end up with those simple descriptions, but the point is, it would be your bar.  You would be there, smelling the smoke, feeling the sticky counter, gazing out of a blue haze at the characters. 

If the bar was described ad nauseum, we would all end up in the same exact place.  However, we would feel like spectators, not participants. 

When I write, I seldom describe anything with more than a sentence or two.  And most of what I write is slipped in during conversation or action.  I do this because reading long passages that don’t allow me to create my own setting is boring.  I have been known to skip pages at a time to avoid being told every little detail.

How do you feel about description in novels?  Are you in favor of detailed passages that put your readers exactly where you want them, or do you prefer to let them wander through the story in a place slightly different than you envisioned?  Does it matter?

When you read, do you enjoy making the story your own or do you crave to see exactly what the author saw when writing?