Category Archives: Writing Tips

Character Writing Exercises

It seems the number one way you learn more about your characters is simply by writing about them. Unfortunately, when this process occurs while you’re writing your story, it can show. Awkward, uneven character development in your completed piece can be the result. One way to get around this is to write scenes with your characters that are not part of your story, but which nonetheless help you learn about them.

Here are a few writing exercises that you can do to help you learn more about your characters. These are also good for helping you past writer’s block, or for use as prompts in timed writing exercises. Each of these exercises is fairly general; you should use the specific traits of your character and story to fill them in and write a scene from them. Not all of these exercises are appropriate for all characters; for example, the lead in a fantasy novel will probably not be suitable for the exercise about building a website. If I can find any of the sheets where I did these, or if anyone would like to submit theirs to be posted, I will put up some examples.

Your main character has invited you to lunch. Where does he/she meet you? What is ordered? What do you talk about?
(This exercise helps you to learn more about your character through food preference–which can actually be useful in your story–and through casual conversation)

Your protagonist and antagonist are each required to write a letter of introduction for your reader, describing themselves, their goals and motivations, and you.
(This exercise gives you valuable insight into the way your characters think about and describe themselves)

It’s a Sunday afternoon and your character’s responsibilities are complete. What does he/she do to relax for the rest of the day?
(This exercise gives you a deeper knowledge of your character through hobbies/leisure time activities.)

Your protagonist and antagonist each write a letter to a friend or family member (or you!) about the other.
(This exercise helps you gain insight into how your characters view their opposition)

Your two main characters have to change a flat tire, in the rain.
(This exercise helps you to learn more about your characters through handling adversity–which can be very telling!)

Your main character invites you to his/her place for dinner. What sort of home does he/she have? How is it furnished? Any family, roommates, pets? What is served?
(This exercise gives you insight via a detailed description of your character’s home environment– which can be useful in your story–family, food preference, and any other details you work into it.)

Your main character decides to put up a personal homepage. How does he/she go about it? Does he/she have the skills to start building one, or will assistance be necessary? What sort of information will he/she want on it?
(This exercise helps give you a feel for how comfortable your character is with the technology that is becoming more prevalent in our lives. It also gives you insight into how your character sees themselves, through how they would like a total stranger to perceive them.)

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Editing Your Book

Maxpixel – CC0 license

Every manuscript needs to be edited, and not just by the author. Sure, self-editing is an important step in manuscript preparation, but it’s not the final step if you want to be proud of your published work.

We authors simply can’t catch all of our own mistakes. We tend to read what we think is there, rather than what is actually there, which makes us terrible proofreaders. Plus, truth to be told, we may not have a perfect grasp of grammar and usage.

That’s where a second set of eyes can be invaluable. A friend, associate or, ideally, professional editor can catch mistakes we’d never see, and elevate the level of the final result.

If you’re being traditionally published, your contract comes with an editor. But if you’re self-publishing, editing is just as important, because now Amazon allows readers to report errors in self-published books, and takes that into account in the rankings that govern your sales.

There are many levels of editing, and the cost can be anything from free to a thousand dollars or more. As with anything, you tend to get what you pay for. This excellent article describes the different types of editing, and provides many resources for finding an editor who matches your needs and budget:

http://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2018/03/costs-for-editing-self-published-book.html

 

 

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New Book: Writing Young Adult Fiction

After two years of editing(!) Dani’s and my new book, Writing Young Adult Fiction, is about to be published. As one of our fans, I’d like to extend this special pre-publication offer to you: get the Kindle book for just $2.99, or get it for free when you purchase the paperback.

My favorite part of the book is our spirited back and forth discussion of our favorite YA novels, where we explore everything that makes them great, from plot to covers. And of course, that makes it a great source of inspiration for your own Young Adult novel.

Order the paperback here and get the Kindle book for free.

Or order the Kindle book by itself for just $2.99.

After this pre-publication special the price will go up, so take advantage of this insider tip now. Of all our books, this is my favorite!

Oh, and if you take advantage of this, could you leave a review on amazon? That’s how books get sold.

Thanks!

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Guarantee Your NaNoWriMo Success

What do Water for ElephantsThe Night Circus, and Wool have in common? They all started as NaNoWriMo projects.
Every year hundreds of thousands of authors around the globe participate in National Novel Writing month, or NaNoWriMo, with the goal of finishing a 50,000 words manuscript in just 30 days. But, only a fraction actually finish their novels. Writing a first draft is hard. Completing it in 30 days is even harder.
For this year’s National Novel Writing Month, Inkitt has created a program filled with special benefits to make sure that writers succeed in finishing their manuscripts.
When you take the pledge, and sign up for the Writers Write program, you are granted access to all kinds of great features:
  • Free, private sessions with professional writing coaches (including the author of The Martian)
  • Events and tips with bestselling authors like Andy Weir, Lauren Kate, and Gayle Forman
  • A variety of community features such as the choice to get a writing buddy who you can exchange manuscript feedback with – and much more!

Make sure to get your spot in the program, there is less than a week left to sign up!

If you are serious about taking on the challenge, want to finish (or start!) a manuscript, and are interested in getting access to the special benefits outlined above, click this link to take the pledge.
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Story Patterns

The original url for this post was writetabulous.com

I recently attended a writer’s workshop that was hosted by a local writers group. The presenter, Judy Olsen, talked about story patterns and how learning and using one of five basic constructs could make a world of difference in your writing success. Since I have never structured a book before, I decided to investigate this concept using Judy’s guidance and your advice. Judy referenced a book called, How to Write for Children and Young Adults written by Jane Fitz-Randolph. I also heavily referenced Judy’s article, Guide to Short-story Plotting.

 What are the Five Story Patterns?

 1. Purpose-Achieved Story

In this pattern the main character has a purpose or desire that is presented at the beginning of the story and the character attempts to achieve that purpose throughout the story. Sometimes the character is able to make advancement toward the goal and other times they are pushed back. In the end, the character achieves his/her purpose, or brings it about, through his/her own courage, own ingenuity, or special ability. If you saw the film, The Book of Eli, you will recall that Eli had a quest to protect the last Bible and had many adventures along the way. I’m sure that you can think of many more…if you would like to share some examples, just add them in comments.

Steps to writing

  • Introduce the main character and the challenge quickly.
  • Create several attempts where the main character works to solve the problem
  • The resolution occurs at the point of most danger and as a result of the main character’s efforts.

2. Story of Wish Fulfillment

In this  pattern the main character has a strong desire or wish that is almost impossible to fulfill. He/she may make one or two efforts to get his wish. When he/she fails, he/she accepts as a fact that he/she cannot have the wish and feels unhappy about it. Then, as a logical result of what he/she is or because of something he/she does, but not in an effort to get his wish (some thoughtful or unselfish act) he/she gets the wish or an equally acceptable or better substitute. I think the movie Letter to Juliet is a good example of this. In this story Sophie is an unpublished writer who wants to get her work published. During the course of the story, some interesting things happen and Sophie eventually gets what she wants.

Steps to writing

  • The main character has a strong wish that seems difficult to achieve
  • The main character either makes little or no effort to get the wish.
  • Interesting action follows, seemingly unrelated to the main character’s wish
  • The main character gets the wish

When the “good” thing happens to the main character, the reader is pleased because the main character deserves it.

3. Story of Misunderstanding, Discovery, and Reversal

“In the beginning of the story, the character misunderstands something; a motive, a situation, an action, or himself. The misunderstanding continues throughout the beginning and middle of the story, and the character acts on the basis of his misunderstanding. But at the end, the action of the story shows him he is wrong; he discovers his mistake. Therefore, he reverses his belief and consequent action. (This is a come to realize ending.)” The Ugly Duckling story written by Hans Christian Andersen I think is a good illustration of this plot pattern. The swan thinks he is a duck and doesn’t fit comfortably into his surroundings. Consequently, he searches and searches for a place to fit in and finally finds a home and comes to realize that he is a beautiful swan and not an ugly duck.

Steps to writing

  • Begin the story with the main character believing in some idea that in the end is either wrong or not in his/her best interest.
  • Several incidents follow which move the main character closer to the truth
  • The story comes to a defining moment where the main character is convinced that he/she is right but the reader can clearly see that the main character is about to make a mistake.
  • The discovery moment follows the defining moment.
  • The main character must perform some action to demonstrate the reversal of his/her belief.

4. The Story of Decision

“The main character is faced at the outset with a moral decision. It appears at the beginning that making the morally right decision will bring him unpleasant results, while making the other choice will bring immediate gain and satisfaction. He is strongly tempted to make that choice, but after battling with himself, he finally makes the “right” choice and acts on it. He finds the moral choice was the better one, and he has grown as a person.  Stomp The Yard: homecoming, is an excellent example of this pattern. Chance Harris is supposed to lead his team to the “final show-down”. Before Chance leads his team to victory he has to make some very important decisions…he can disappoint his family and friends or risk getting beat-up or worse.

Steps to writing

  • The main character must have a clearly defined moral decision with several obstacles. The main character believes the morally right decision is not in his best interest while the morally wrong decision promises immediate gain and satisfaction.
  • Two to four incidents follow that show the main character wavering between right and wrong.
  • The story reaches a climax where the decision must be made. The decision must be revealed by some action of the main character.

5. The Incident Story

There are two types of “incident story”. The first one is simply a series of events that happen to the main character. The second type, the incident-adventure, is created when the main character goes into an unfamiliar environment and a series of events happen to him. The Prince of Persia is an example of this pattern. Dastan, the fugitive prince must go on a journey to save the world and his family.

Steps to writing

  • Clearly establish where you are.
  • Several incidents follow. The main character moves from one incident to the next.
  • Create unity in the story by either bringing the reader back to the point of beginning, have a common element in all incidents or have some type of repetition.

 

 

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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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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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How Do You Punctuate Dialogue?

Quotation Marks

Dialogue can be a bit intimidating. All that punctuation. But it’s really not that complicated. The usual practice is to put dialogue in quotes and place an attribution after it, separated with a comma inside the closing quote mark. The attribution will not be capitalized, because it’s part of the same sentence:

“Hello,” he said.

The only thing that’s a little weird is if the quote is a question, you still don’t capitalize the attribution, even though it sort of looks like you should:

“How?” he asked.

When using a character’s name, it’s best to place the name before the verb, as in

“Hello,” Mark said.

This has fallen out of style:

“Hello,” said Mark.

 You can also put the attribution first:

He said, “Hello.”

 That’s really about all there is to dialogue punctuation.

The other important rule is to change paragraphs each time you change speakers. This would be confusing:

“Hello,” he said. “How are you?” she asked.

But this isn’t:

“Hello,” he said.
“How are you?” she asked.

 

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Settings – How Much Detail?

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 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 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 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 in a larger degree as a social historian. But, besides this, as 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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Make Your Writing More Active

Passive writing is boring. Here’s a simple change you can apply to every sentence you write to make it more interesting. Simply look for the word “was.” For example:

The house I grew up in was in Los Angeles. It was a low, ranch style house with some modern touches. It was designed by my father. But maintenance was a challenge. After only a few years the plumbing was rusty and paint was peeling from the outside walls.

That’s really boring! Here’s what it looks like if we change all those “was” passive verbs to something more active:

I grew up in Los Angeles, in a low, ranch style house with some modern touches. My father designed it, but he didn’t realize how hard it would be to maintain. After only a few years plumbing rusted and paint peeled from the outside walls.

Quite a difference, isn’t it? The changes were minor, but now it is active and interesting. It even got shorter!

Try eliminating “was” from your writing and see how much more interesting it becomes! (If you write in present tense, look for “is” instead.)

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