How Much Detail? Getting Your Setting Right

by Jo Anne Fontanilla

Every story takes place at same point or points in space and in time. It is incumbent upon the writer of fiction to “place” his story in space and time, as early as possible in his narrative, so that you will begin making the proper associations with the setting. The setting also presents a share of technical difficulties, but most novelists embrace them gladly. The novel is a prose form and emphasizes realism: its style ought to be, for the most part, terse and transparently plain. Whatever poetic impulse the novelist may have is likely to be frustrated: only the setting provides him an outlet for it; for in his descriptive writing he is allowed to express his feeling for beauty and create a scene in lavish hues, if he wishes.

The degree of elaboration with which setting is depicted depends upon a number of considerations, all of which the astute writer keeps in mind. Perhaps the first consideration is the importance of the setting in relation to the other essential elements in the story—plot and character. In some stories— especially contemporary stories that takes place in surroundings that are familiar to most readers— the element of setting can be safely minimized. The particular setting, moreover, is not indispensable to the conversation that constitutes the body of the story, although the weather not only furnishes its title but also points symbolically to the problem raised by the slightly developed plot.

Another consideration for the conscientious writer is the probable familiarity of his setting. If the setting is one that is likely to be familiar to most of his readers, the writer needs to depict it in detail; he may assume that the details he selects will give his readers that pleasure of recognition that is one of the special values of familiar material. For example, although millions of Americans have never visited Coney Island, most of them are so well acquainted with the appearance and nature of the resort that the writer using this setting in a story for an American audience need feel no compulsion to present this particular setting elaborately.

With a setting that is remote from most readers not only in space but also in time, a different problem arises. A writer may safely assume that contemporary London will be much more familiar to most of his readers than Elizabethan or eighteenth-century London. If his story takes place in either earlier period, the writer will have to build up his setting out of appropriate details. Such a treatment involves information concerning the houses, the costumes, the manners, and the types of work and play characteristic of the period. Since the development of literary realism, readers become increasingly critical of the accuracy of historic settings, and the contemporary writer runs the risk of annoying his readers if he indulges in such conspicuous anachronism as the Elizabethan audience allowed its dramatist when they used settings remote in time and place. In the use of settings much less familiar than New York or London—such as ancient Persia or medieval India—the contemporary writer may content himself with a minimum of specific details—so long as the details he chooses and emphasizes are appropriate—since every few of his readers are in a position to challenge the historical accuracy of such details as he offers.

Finally, the treatment of setting, like the treatment of character, will depend on the mode in which the writer is working, whether it is classical, romantic, or realistic. What we have said concerning character in this connection is equally true of setting. In classical stories—in Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas or Voltaire’s Candide, for instance—the setting is usually sketched in broadly. In romantic stories there is a greater attention to detail, the writer may fall back on elements in setting that have been accumulated by generations of romance writers. The Romantic Age brought in a passionate sense of identification with nature, and the idealization of it. It is soon reflected in the novel. In realistic stories, the writer must consider seriously the accuracy and fullness of his details, since it is one of the tenets of realism that setting should be depicted with a high degree of circumstantiality. Faithful adherence to this tenet resulted in the development, in the middle and later nineteenth-century.

The most richly regional story in this collection is Faulkner’s “Was,” and the very detailed presentation of setting, atmosphere, and manners is justified not only because the place and the time of the story are unfamiliar even to most American readers, but also because the details are intrinsically interesting and amusing.

In contemporary realism, however, the reader is likely to find a rather less circumstantial treatment of American settings than the realistic fiction of the nineteenth century. This less particularized treatment is due, on the one hand, to the writer’s assumption that readers have now become familiar with the flora and fauna of regional America and, on the other hand, to a change in the conception of the technique of effective description.

In the more expansive form of the novel, the writer may feel free to devote a proportionately greater amount of space to the depiction of setting in and by itself than the constricted form of the short story will permit.

Most authors’ delight in turning out lengthy passages of description, “set pieces” with lavish strings of adjectives. However, by now that belongs to a past fashion. Today’s readers are impatient and skip solid pages or even paragraphs that do not advance the story. It is best to insert description as unobtrusively as possible, an image here, and the next—after dialogue, or a bit or scatter his pictures of the physical background, just as a dramatist artfully handles his “exposition.”

Percy Lubbock observes that paring a novel bare of most detail is occasionally good, but not very often. The consensus is that the factual inventory can be carried too far, is it is by Hugh Walpole and Theodore Dreiser, who compile altogether too much insignificant data; but that is merely abuse of a method. Too few externals can also be an error. To most of us, clothes and houses are telling clues, and the novelist owes it to us to report how his characters dress, and vividly where and how they live. At the same time, he fulfills his role to a larger degree as a social historian. But, besides this a professor Lathrop suggests, the setting has become ever more important in contemporary fiction, because we increasingly recognize a man’s background as one of the factors that has shaped him. The active pressure of environment in forming personality is widely acknowledged now. “The setting is seen as a ‘force'” The plot is often presented not as a thing in itself, but as something caused and conditional, possible and characteristic only in its milieu. Hence, the greater demand to have the setting authentic, realistic. A thin or inadequately studied setting is not acceptable today.”

Ultimately, the kind and amount of background detail one likes in a book depends on its subject and aim, and no less on the temperament of the author and each reader.
References:

Reading Fiction: A Method of Analysis with Selections for Study by Fred Benjamin Millett; Harper, New York 1950

The Art of Reading the Novel by Philip Freund; Collier Books, New York 1965

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New Writing Academy Course Bundles Are a Great Deal!

Our most popular offering at Writing Academy is our monthly subscription package where you get ALL of our courses for just $49 a month. But not everyone needs all that content. So we’ve just created two new bundles tailored for writers specifically interested in fiction or non-fiction. Now there’s a package just right for everyone! Our new bundles are terrific deals!

Fiction Class Bundle

Non-Fiction Class Bundle

All Course Bundle

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Helping Children Become Better Writers

The New York Times interviewed  Steve Graham, a professor at Arizona State University’s Teachers College who has been researching how young people learn to write. They asked him whether a parent should correct a child’s writing, or just be encouraging. Here’s what he said:

Sometimes when kids come to you to share what they’re writing, they’re not coming for feedback. They are coming for affirmation. It’s really important we emphasize first and foremost what we really like about it. And if you’re going to give feedback, just pick one or two things. English teachers — and parents are guilty of this, too — sometimes overwhelm kids with more feedback than they can absorb all at once. The other thing that’s really important, particularly for parents, is to remember that they don’t own this piece. It’s their child’s. Asking questions, instead of saying “Do this,” can be a more effective approach. It gives the child the opportunity to make decisions about the text.

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Internet Business Insights

Many of my courses include lessons about self-publishing and how to market books once they’re published.

A great marketing technique is to give your book away on Amazon periodically to drive it to the top of their bestseller list. Then you can charge for it while it is being promoted on Amazon’s lists. Since it costs nothing to give away an eBook, that’s about the cheapest marketing program you’ll ever find!

Well, that’s exactly what is happening with a book I contributed to.

The book is called Internet Business Insights: Lessons Learned and Strategies Used by 101 Successful Internet-Based Entrepreneurs. We got together and each contributed a chapter. I’ve read them all, and it’s a pretty amazing book filled with 500 pages of insights, advice, motivation, and more.

The question of how to market your book is part of the broader question of how to be successful on the Internet, and that’s what this book is all about. Not only does the book include my biggest obstacles, how I became successful, what my greatest tactics are, and my advice and inspiration for other aspiring digital entrepreneurs–but there are 100 other stories included just like mine!

It’s full of insights and advice from authors, bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, coaches, freelancers, and many other varieties of Internet entrepreneurs.

Also included in the book is a section that compiles the 30 repeating themes that were mentioned again and again by multiple contributors.

You can truly use this book to expedite your success online by learning from the experts.

Completely FREE

It’s an incredible resource that’s over 502 pages in paperback, and I’m very proud to have been part of it. I’m also thrilled to be able to offer the eBook to you completely free.

To get it for free in eBook form, simply sign up HERE.

Then you’ll be notified when the book is free on Kindle.

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Proofreading tips

Proofreading tips to help professional writers, students, or anyone that writes as part of their work day. Error free writing and typing is possible!

The skill of proofreading is necessary whether you are a student, a professional writer, or someone who creates lots of office memos. No matter the context in which you are writing, there are systematic procedures that you can follow to ensure you produce the best work possible.

There are three types of proofreading: Comparison, content, and format. A comparison proofread may not be applicable to every project you do. It applies to projects in which you have an original document you are copying from. This ‘original document’ could be your own handwritten notes, they could be a typed document that needs to be re-typed because a file was lost, or they could be a document with changes scrawled by hand all across the pages. A comparison proofing requires a word for word, character for character comparison of the new document and the old document. The purpose of this reading is to make sure that the exact same words and punctuation are in both documents. A comparison proofread is the first type of proofing that will take place.

For a content proofread, you may put aside the original document and focus on the new document. At this stage, you will be looking for correct sentence structure, logic, spelling, punctuation, and factuality. You will also be looking for consistency. If your memo says, “(s) he would be in violation of company policy” and then later states ” he/she would need to report the incident to the appropriate supervisor”, there is a consistency error. A change should be noted to use either “he/she” or “(s) he” consistently. The purpose of the content read is to make sure the document is correct and reads well.

Finally, a format proofread is performed. A format proofing is just what it sounds like. You are looking for a correct format and consistent format in the document. There are certain formatting conventions that are followed when typing, for example, a business letter. There may also be specific formatting rules when typing a memo for a company. An easy way to start a format proofread is to ‘scan the edges’ of the document and look for anything that sticks out and doesn’t look right. Then look at the overall page: Does it look balanced? For example, is the text consistently justified or consistently left aligned? Now scan the document and pay attention to the spaces instead of the words. Take out any extra spaces you find within the text. Finally, this is the time when you will check page numbers and footnotes, if applicable.

Give yourself ample time to go through each of these three types/stages of proofreading for the cleanest most professional resulting document. The following tips will help you do a more accurate proofing at any stage:

1. Always proof from a hard copy. Do not try to proof a document from your computer screen; you will miss many errors this way.

2. When marking the document, try using proofreader marks. If you are unsure of the proofreader mark for a particular correction, write out the change you want to make. Be clear and specific about your corrections, do not simply circle the errors.

3. When possible, do not proofread your own work. You know what you mean to say, so you are more likely to skim over errors. If you are able, get more than one person to proofread your work. Everyone has different strengths and they will find different errors.

4. Break down your tasks. When you are doing a content proofing, the number of things you need to look out for may overwhelm you. It is best to break it down into quicker, more specific proofreads rather than one big proofread. For example, do one proofing for spelling and punctuation, next proof the document for grammatical errors, then do a third content proofing for factuality and consistency.

5. When you are doing a comparison proofread, use a straight edge (such as a ruler or piece of paper) as a guide. If you carefully move the straight edge from line to line on the original document, you are less likely to miss omitted text in the new document.

6. During a proofing for spelling, try reading the document backwards. When each individual word is looked at, outside the context of a sentence, you are less likely to miss spelling errors.

7. After corrections have been made, don’t forget to proof the revised document. First check to see that all the corrections were made, then read over the document one more time to make sure you didn’t miss something the first time around!

 

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Most famous books set in each state

Insider came up with this list of the most famous books set in each state. How many have you read?

AL “To Kill A Mockingbird” (Harper Lee)
AK “Into the Wild” (Jon Krakauer)
AZ “The Bean Trees” (Barbara Kingsolver)
AR “A Painted House” (John Grisham)
CA “Play It As It Lays” (Joan Didion)
CO “The Shining” (Stephen King)
CT “Revolutionary Road” (Richard Yates)
DE “The Saint of Lost Things” (Christopher Castellani)
FL “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (Zora Neale Hurston)
GA “Gone with the Wind” (Margaret Mitchell)
HI “Hawaii” (James Michener)
ID “Housekeeping” (Marilynne Robinson)
IL “The Jungle” (Upton Sinclair)
IN “The Magnificent Ambersons” (Booth Tarkington)
IA “A Thousand Acres” (Jane Smiley)
KS “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (L. Frank Baum)
KY “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
LA “A Confederacy of Dunces” (John Kennedy Toole)
ME “Carrie” (Stephen King)
MD “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” (Anne Tyler)
MA “Walden” (Henry David Thoreau)
MI “The Virgin Suicides” (Jeffrey Eugenides)
MN “Main Street” (Sinclair Lewis)
MS “The Sound and the Fury” (William Faulkner)
MO “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (Mark Twain)
MT “A River Runs Through It” (Norman Maclean)
NE “My Antonia” (Willa Cather)
NV “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (Hunter S. Thompson)
NH “The Hotel New Hampshire” (John Irving)
NJ “Drown” (Junot Diaz)
NM “Cities of the Plain” (Cormac McCarthy)
NY “The Great Gatsby” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
NC “A Walk to Remember” (Nicholas Sparks)
ND “The Round House” (Louise Erdrich)
OH “The Broom of the System” (David Foster Wallace)
OK “Paradise” (Toni Morrison)
OR “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Ken Kesey)
PA “The Lovely Bones”(Alice Sebold)
RI “My Sister’s Keeper” (Jodi Picoult)
SC “The Secret Life of Bees” (Sue Monk Kidd)
SD “A Long Way From Home” (Tom Brokaw)
TN “A Death in the Family” (James Agee)
TX “No Country for Old Men” (Cormac McCarthy)
UT “The 19th Wife” (David Ebershoff)
VT “The Secret History” (Donna Tartt)
VA “Bridge to Terabithia” (Katherine Paterson)
WA “Twilight” (Stephenie Meyer)
WV “Shiloh” (Phillis Reynolds Naylor)
WI “Little House in the Big Woods” (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
WY “The Laramie Project” (Moises Kaufrnan)
DC “The Lost Symbol” (Dan Brown)

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Setting

by: Jo Anne Fontanilla

Every story takes place at same point or points in space and in time. It is incumbent upon the writer of fiction to “place” his story in space and time, as early as possible in his narrative, so that you will begin making the proper associations with the setting. The setting also presents a share of technical difficulties, but most novelists embrace them gladly. The novel is a prose form and emphasizes realism: its style ought to be, for the most part, terse and transparently plain. Whatever poetic impulse the novelist may have is likely to be frustrated: only the setting provides him an outlet for it; for in his descriptive writing he is allowed to express his feeling for beauty and create a scene in lavish

The novel is a prose form and emphasizes realism: its style ought to be, for the most part, terse and transparently plain. Whatever poetic impulse the novelist may have is likely to be frustrated: only the setting provides him an outlet for it; for in his descriptive writing he is allowed to express his feeling for beauty and create a scene in lavish hues, if he wishes.

The degree of elaboration with which setting is depicted depends upon a number of considerations, all of which the astute writer keeps in mind. Perhaps the first consideration is the importance of the setting in relation to the other essential elements in the story—plot and character. In some stories— especially contemporary stories that

In some stories— especially contemporary stories that take place in surroundings that are familiar to most readers— the element of setting can be safely minimized. The particular setting, moreover, is not indispensable to the conversation that constitutes the body of the story, although the weather not only furnishes its title but also points symbolically to the problem raised by the slightly developed plot.

Another consideration for the conscientious writer is the probable familiarity of his setting. If the setting is one that is likely to be familiar to most of his readers, the writer needs to depict it in detail; he may assume that the details he selects will give his readers that pleasure of recognition that is one of the special values of familiar material. For example, although millions of Americans have never visited Coney Island, most of them are so well acquainted with the
using this setting in a story for an American audience need feel no compulsion to present this particular setting elaborately.

With a setting that is remote from most readers not only in space but also in time, a different problem arises. A writer may safely assume that contemporary London will be much more familiar to most of his readers than Elizabethan or eighteenth-century London. If his story takes place in either earlier period, the writer will have to build up his setting out of appropriate details. Such a treatment involves information concerning the houses, the costumes, and the
period.

Since the development of literary realism, readers become increasingly critical of the accuracy of historic settings, and the contemporary writer runs the risk of annoying his readers if he indulges in such conspicuous anachronism as the Elizabethan audience allowed its dramatist when they used settings remote in time and place. In the use of settings much less familiar than New York or London—such as ancient Persia or medieval India—the contemporary writer may content himself with a minimum of specific details—so long as the details he chooses and emphasizes are appropriate—since every few of his readers are in a position to challenge the historical accuracy of such details as he offers.

Finally, the treatment of setting, like the treatment of character, will depend on the mode in which the writer is working, whether it is classical, romantic, or realistic. What we have said concerning character in this connection is equally true of setting. In classical stories—in Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas or Voltaire’s Candide, for instance—the setting is usually sketched in broadly. In romantic stories there is a greater attention to detail, the writer may fall back on elements in

In romantic stories there is a greater attention to detail, the writer may fall back on elements in setting that have been accumulated by generations of romance writers. The Romantic Age brought in a passionate sense of identification with nature, and the idealization of it. It is soon reflected in the novel. In realistic stories, the writer must consider seriously the accuracy and fullness of his details, since it is one of the tenets of realism that setting should be depicted with a high degree of circumstantiality. Faithful adherence to this tenet resulted in the development, in the middle and later nineteenth-century.

The most richly regional story in this collection is Faulkner’s “Was,” and the very detailed presentation of setting, atmosphere, and manners is justified not only because the place and the time of the story are unfamiliar even to most American readers, but also because the details are intrinsically interesting and amusing.

In contemporary realism, however, the reader is likely to find a rather less circumstantial treatment of American settings than the realistic fiction of the nineteenth century. This less particularized treatment is due, on the one hand, to the writer’s assumption that readers have now become familiar with the flora and fauna of regional America and, on the other hand, to a change in the conception of the technique of effective description.

In the more expansive form of the novel, the writer may feel free to devote a proportionately greater amount of space to the depiction of setting in and by itself than the constricted form of the short story will permit.

Most authors’ delight in turning out lengthy passages of description, “set pieces” with lavish strings of adjectives. However, by now that belongs to a past fashion. Today’s readers are impatient and skip solid pages or even paragraphs that do not advance the story. It is best to insert description as unobtrusively as possible, an image here, and the next—after dialogue, or a bit or scatter his pictures of the physical background, just as a dramatist artfully handles his “exposition.”

Percy Lubbock observes that paring a novel bare of most detail is occasionally good, but not very often. The consensus is that the factual inventory can be carried too far, is it is by Hugh Walpole and Theodore Dreiser, who compile altogether too much insignificant data; but that is merely abuse of a method. Too few externals can also be an error. To most of us, clothes and houses are telling clues, and the novelist owes it to us to report how his characters dress,

To most of us, clothes and houses are telling clues, and the novelist owes it to us to report how his characters dress, and same time, he fulfills his role in a larger degree as a social historian. But, besides this, a professor Lathrop suggests, the setting has become ever more important in contemporary fiction, because we increasingly recognize a man’s background as one of the factors that has shaped him.

The active pressure of environment in forming personality is widely acknowledged now. “The setting is seen as a ‘force.’ The plot is often presented not as a thing in itself, but as something caused and conditional, possible and characteristic only in its milieu. Hence, the greater demand to have the setting authentic, realistic. A thin or inadequately studied setting is not acceptable today.”

Ultimately, the kind and amount of background detail one likes in a book depends on its subject and aim, and no less on the temperament of the author and each reader.

References:

Reading Fiction: A Method of Analysis with Selections for Study by Millett, Fred Benjamin ,Harper; New York 1950

The Art of Reading the Novel by Freund, Philip, Collier Books; New York 1965

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A New Publisher Who Promotes Your Book

When JK Rowling first wrote Harry Potter, she couldn’t land a publishing deal. That’s right, the greatest money making book of our time was passed over repeatedly.

However, it was finally accepted…not because an editor actually read it, but because one of them gave the first chapter to his eight-year-old daughter and said, “Here, you read it.”

Not only did she read it, she begged for chapter two. She was hooked!

And so, a billion dollar industry was created.

This got me thinking about modern publishing, which is very much web-driven.

It doesn’t really matter much anymore what traditional publishers think about your book because brick and mortar stores are going away.

Today, it matters what readers think about your book. It’s what moves books to the top of the Amazon best-sellers list.

There’s a relatively new publishing company called Inkitt that I think is taking the right approach.

Inkitt creates a free copy of authors’ books that people can read using their app. If readers like the book, then Inkitt offers the author a publishing contract.

Authors then receive 25% of the book’s sales, which is a very generous contract.

But why would authors use Inkitt when they could just self-publish and keep all the proceeds? The reason is that Inkitt agrees to spend money promoting their authors’ books, and driving them to the top of Amazon’s rankings. Individual authors are usually not able to accomplish that.

This seems like a really good approach for new authors, especially if you are unsure about the details of formatting and self-publishing your book.

To get your book in front of Inkitt’s readers, all you need to do is upload the text to Inkitt’s site. If readers like it, you’ll be offered a publishing contract.

They accept all genres of fiction (but not fan-fiction). You can even submit already published books.

There are a few requirements:

  1. Your book must be 20,000 words or more.
  2. It can’t be a collection of stories or poems.

And…that’s it.

So, if you have a book that didn’t do well, or sales have started to dip, submit it to Inkitt and they’ll get it to their readers. You can even tell them to limit the number of free copies they allow their readers to read, just in case you’re worried.

If it works out, then you’ll have the option to sign a contract with them and let their professional marketing team get to work. There is no cost for this service — their revenues come from book sales.

Inkitt already has quite a number of successful authors. You can see some testimonials on their site.

Click here to visit their site and upload your books:

www.inkitt.com/getpublished

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