Some Talk On Setting Descriptions…and Follow Friday @NannaWrites !

For today’s Follow Friday, I hope you check out a rising Danish writer named Nanna Andersen. Nanna posts book reviews and tips on writing. I also think she’s just started building her platform, so give her some love!

As for me, my Draft Five marathon begins today! Hopefully. I’m going to see Guardians of the Galaxy at 5, with dinner afterwards, so that should leave me a whole evening of writing. I have finished 19/21 chapters in my new outline, so that is nearly set. My final two betas are delivering feedback this weekend, which will be added into the new outline as best I can do.

But here’s a “writer topic” before I head off to the weekend – setting description. Dad called Mom a few days ago and they talked at length about my book (with rather different opinions, as you might imagine from following this saga). Dad insists that I need more setting descriptions in the book. Like, five-senses surround-sound half-a-page setting descriptions for almost every place the characters enter. Lord of The Rings level description.

My mother’s opinion, and mine, is that no one wants to read all that. Those are the paragraphs readers are most likely to skip – aka, paragraphs I do not want in my novel.

To Dad’s credit, setting descriptions are flimsy in my book. This is because I honestly haven’t decided what everything looks like yet. I should probably go into more detail about the made-up places in my world, for those are places that readers have never mentally, visually, or physically been. A reader may be able to fill in some blanks with their imagination, but I ought to paint a nice two-paragraph picture = A literal visual translation (is this a house? a courtyard? a city?) plus time of day, weather, inside/outside, damp/dry, and a general mood of scary/safe is a good bet for most settings.

However, I don’t find it necessary at ALL to describe, at length, settings that a person can imagine clearly without my help. Like the airport. We’ve all been in airports. We know what they look like, smell like, feel like. Even if you’ve never been in one, you’ve probably seen them in movies. I will not waste time describing the ugly carpet, blowing AC, sterile colors, and uncomfortable plastic seats. First of all, none of that matters to the plot. Second of all, the reader “gets it” without that needing to be said.

In general, I won’t spend more than 200 words on any setting description, even if we’re in a new place. Not only can setting descriptions be peppered through the scene instead of dumped in one swoop (“he walked over to an antique wardrobe, its teal paint weathered with age”), readers don’t need to know the shape of the crown molding, the number of tiles on the floor, or the parts-per-million carbon dioxide in the air. Do you think about those sorts of things when you enter a new space? Probably not.

So describe the settings to the length that they matter to the characters and story. Trust that your reader has some imagination, and that it’s actually quite fun to make up your own visual scene as a reader. Being spoonfed every detail is not only tedious, but it takes some of the fun out (for me, at least). It tells me that the author is a control freak and doesn’t want the reader to “share” the fictional dream as much as the author wants the reader to “obey” the dream. And I will probably admonish that author by closing the book.