Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Being There Even If You Aren't...

In the last few "Case files..." we've explored settings. We've covered some sashimi inspiration, the value of research, and how Middle-Grade does it. Today I want to talk about making you be there, even if you've never been there. 

Setting is done well when a writer transfers the images in their head into yours without being a dictator about it. You don't have to see it the EXACT SAME WAY I DO, so long as we're close. It's the trick of being descriptive without describing (Did I sound all mystical-wise like Mr. Miyagi...or Mr. Han for you modernists?).

When I wrote WHISPERTOWN, I loosely modeled Stepton after my own small hometown of Hopewell, Virginia. My goal was to remind you of YOUR small town, even if you've never lived in one (there I go being mystical-wise again). Let me elaborate, there's a scene where my hero, Nick, who's new to the town, travels into a depressed area. He notices a number of abandoned houses with chipped paint and overgrown lawns featuring  Foreclosure signs mounted on stakes. Now, maybe I'll tell you that the house is blue. Or, maybe I'll say the Foreclosure sign has some Real Estate Lady's smiling face on it. But I won't give you much. Why? Because I want YOU to fine tune it, making it your own.

My blue might be Navy, while yours is Sky. My house might be a Victorian, while yours is a Rancher. My Real Estate Lady might look like Harvard Business School candidate, while yours looks like a kindly old Grandmother. As for the street Nick's on, maybe you're already thinking about a street you've traveled where the houses are suddenly empty. And the town, maybe you've seen one like it, where half the city is affluent and comfortable, while the other half struggles to get by. My goal, is to give you just enough to remind you of what you know, so that you might walk in the character's shoes, and go where they go without actually going there (Mystical-Wise).

I won't claim that it's easy, or that I always do it well. It's a balancing act, the difference between too-much, and not enough. Can you think of any books where you've seen details setting descriptions done well? Or done poorly? If so, drop me a note in the comments.

Lamar "L. R." Giles writes for adults and teens. Penning everything from epic fantasy to noir thrillers, he's never met a genre he didn't like. His debut YA mystery WHISPERTOWN is about a teen in witness protection who investigates his best friend's murder and stumbles on a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own father. It will be published in Summer, 2013 by HarperCollins. He resides in Virginia with his wife and is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find out more on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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