Thursday, January 7, 2010

Setting and Details

Today I made my word count again. I struggled as I had to cut a few words, but I added a scene and I am pleased with it as it is from the Villain's POV. I also spent some time filling in my GMC chart for the villain before I started writing this morning. I think that extra time clarified my Villain's direction and did build a little sympathy for him as well. We'll see.

My issue right now is getting the story down, cutting out goop and making sure I am not too repetitive. That's hard not to do when I am desperate to add words. So I know some of the words will be revised/chopped/tightened later and then I'll have more room to explore Donald Maass's  illumination regarding setting.

The breakout novelist does not merely set a scene; she unveils a unique place, one resonant with a sense of time, woven through social threads and full of the destinies the universe has in store for us all. She does not merely describe a setting, she builds a world. She then sets her characters free in that world to experience all it has to offer.

Confession time: I want to do this, but I am weak in this area because of one reason. I am lazy. I hate researching and try to make it as easy on myself as possible. If I loved researching, I'd write historical novels. If I was not lazy, I'd build fantasy worlds and write Fantasy Paranormals teaming with wonderful vampires and interesting sexual alpha beasts.

I love reading the historical novels, paranormal novels, great women's fiction, crazy literary fiction written by classic authors like Wilkie Collins and Graham Greene, thrillers and spy stories, mysteries and Young Adult books of the same ilk. I'm swept away by the attention many of these authors pay to the details of the worlds they are writing about. I admire their patience and tenacity. I wish I could be like them, but I am not.

I'm plot and character driven as a writer. I love people. I can mimic just about everyone I know: how they sound, move and act. I can read a story or meet a person who talks about his/her life and create an entire story for them that's fictional or plan to weave them, their interesting quirks, into my writing. That ability comes easy to me. It's my strength as a writer. And I believe my writing voice is strong because I have an ear for people.

I write a lot of dialogue in first draft. Then I layer in the details. And I do admit, I slack in this area of my writing. I used to think I didn't have to build worlds if I wrote contemporary novels, but after reading Maass's book, especially his chapter about setting, I realize that I must build my novel's contemporary world, too. I don't think it has to happen first for me. I have to pay homage to my strengths first and then build around them, but I have to do it.

I have to, but I cringe at the work involved. The time away from my lovely writing. And I know part of the reason I cringe is because I've never been totally steeped in a place with history and connection to people over a long period of time. My background is like a gypsy who moves constantly. Born in the Netherlands, immigrated to Canada when I was four, grew up in a horrible northern mining town, lived in three provinces, many homes, moved to the states when I got married, lived in Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and now Alabama. And I'm already planning my next move.

How can I really reflect an area's time and place when I treat each area I personally live in or visit much like a hummingbird treats flowers? I sip, I fly away, I sip again. I never stay long enough to steep myself in the traditions. I glean surface details quickly, pick up accents (my DH knows exactly who I've talked to long distance by the change in my accent--I even have a DUTCH accent overlaying my slight southern accent on occasion), live fully where I am, but I don't know all the idiosyncratic unique details of any one area I live.

I try to set my stories where I am currently residing. That's helped a bit. And I know of authors who write contemporary romances set all over the world, yet they have never been to those places and they do it well. I hope I can weave a stronger setting as I refocus my direction in my writing to incorporate more details, lacing them through what is a largely a commercial novel, and create a depth to my CR that makes people miss my places when they set down the book.

I know my characters are most important to the development of my story lines, but it's time to up the ante. As I move forward, I will try to glean more than a few sips, but I am hoping that my sips can be sifted throughout the novel in bits and pieces and flashes through dialogue, internalizations and reactions to events. I don't think I'm literary enough to weave a long, descriptive passage as well as many of the wonderful authors Maass quoted in his book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.


Gwen Hernandez said...

"I treat each area I personally live in or visit much like a hummingbird treats flowers. I sip, I fly away, I sip again." I love that line! And, that could totally be me. Alabama is the 8th State I've lived in (plus another country).

I, too, struggle with setting and world building. So far the only novels that have worked for me are set in San Diego. Even though I haven't lived in that part of CA for 18 years (OMG!), I find it easier to mix in the elements. The ocean air, cool breeze, fog.

I'm sure I could do a much better job, and I'm going to try with this MS. Good luck, lady!

Christine said...

I was thinking of you and other military wives as I wrote these words. I wondered how other writers in our predicament handled the intricacies of world building in the here and now. I've been layering in elements of what I know about where I live, but they are tiny compared to the vast bounty of really growing up and staying in one place. But our experiences lend themselves to strong writing in other ways, and I believe they enrich our words.

It was such a revelation to me as to why I am weakest in this area. But we hummingbirds can be taught and we can apply what we learn.

Gwen Hernandez said...

I do think there is another side to this, though. If you live in a place long enough, sometimes you fail to see what makes it interesting.

And, how many people do you know who've lived somewhere forever, and never visited it's major attractions?

We lived 20 minutes from the beach in CA, and our neighbors had never been. Seriously! I knew locals in VA that never went to DC, had never seen Mt. Vernon, or been to a memorial or museum.

Maybe by virtue of moving around and making the most of every place we visit, we have an advantage. We can more easily spot what makes a place unique from the rest of the world.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Oops. That's "its major attractions". Why can't I edit my own comment? ;-)

Christine said...

Good points and certainly true for me and my clan. We go everywhere we can when we are in a new place. I remember sitting down to discuss all the things we still needed to do before we left DC, the list was not super long (and there is a LOT to do there). One regret: still haven't been to Monticello so we'll go there over the summer when we tour the university of Va.

I think I can grab hold of the big stuff and insert it. It's the little nuances that set each place apart. Now I am more hopeful because I observe those nuances from place to place. The only thing I've got to be careful of is not truly understanding why those nuances and differences exist.