Saturday, November 15, 2008
Setting: Yet Another Consideration
Kevin Deegan-Krause reading.
I think setting a scene properly is a difficult thing to learn for someone who's only written short stories for 10 years. A few brief sentences is all there is room for in a short. In fact, I often excise lengthy atmospheric scenes to make room for character or plot. But in a novel, setting the scene can be critical.
Here's a nice piece of writing by Elizabeth Hand in GENERATION LOSS, which happens to be the book I'm reading just now.
...The steps were half rotted, and a naked hundred-watt bulb made ominous spitting sounds when I switched it on. Plaster flaked from the walls, exposing wooden lathes and clumps of horsehair. I heard scrabbling in the shadows as I walked around. Dirt floor, stone foundation; exposed beams curlicued with wormholes. Cobwebs covered shelves of old bottles and rusted tools. An oil drum served as a trash bin....
This is just enough detail to give the reader a feeling of dread without overdoing it. What writers do this best for you? Certainly Daniel Woodrell springs to mind. You can pick up Winter's Bone, turn to any page and find a scene-setting paragraph that pulls you right into it. Try it.