Three Dirty Birds on Setting

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The Three Dirty Birds are discussing Setting today, with the help of Chuck Wendig’s pithy thought processes.

Zoe: Another reallyreally basic chapter.

Ana: With the novella I’m writing currently, for the first time I’m actually making use of setting. I’m still really bad at it. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me, but it is.

Kate: There is a trick to it, I think, though I’m not sure I can explain it very well. I think you have to use it as almost of mirror of what’s going on in the character’s head, or heart, or to reflect the reality that is coming. You can use it to reflect attitudes.

Ana: You mean like that pro tip where you start your horror novel with rain?

Zoe: Always start your horror novel with rain. A rain of blood.

Kate: Lol. NO!  But cold can be used to infer danger, or lack of support. Placing a story in a happy little town implies one thing, placing it in the middle of a broken down area in a big city implies another. I’m not doing a good job at explaining this, am I? (Paints a giant L on her forehead)

Ana: I know what you’re trying to say. But right now it’s cold in my story because it’s February, and it’s February because that’s entrance exam season, and they’re in Tokyo because that’s the place to go~ I didn’t really make these choices to set the mood.

Zoe: But you can use the cold to set the mood, since it’s there. There are different kinds of cold, different ways to view or react to cold. Some people love winter (Ana: SNOOOOOOW) and it’s joyous and wonderful for them. And then there’s me. I should open all my horror novels in the winter. There are also different kinds of cold days—sunny with the sun glistening off snow, or dark and gray and gloomy and biting.

I once read—and I’m completely paraphrasing here—that Alfred Hitchcock felt suspense should start during the day—it’s sunny out, people are bustling along with their business, things are good, or at least normal. Then the darkness comes.

Kate: True. How can you feel horror if you don’t know how horrible it is?

Ana: I think when this novella is done I’ll edit this with this in mind. I need more practice.

Zoe: I like concentrating on different things in different edits. I can’t juggle everything at once.

Ana: That’s probably the best way to do it. (Unless you just run spell-check)

Zoe: You’re missing out on all the fun if you just run spell check.

Kate: Books are like paintings. Or cakes. It’s all done in layers.

Ana: I think more like onions because cutting them can make you cry.

Zoe: Yes, I often liken writing a novel to doing an oil painting. (Not that I’ve ever done an oil painting, aside from paint-by-numbers.)

Kate: Nothing wrong with paint-by-numbers.

Zoe: You haven’t seen mine.

Kate: Lol. Chuck talks about three details and no more, which–if everyone followed that–would kill off a lot of the info-dumping we see in young writers.

Ana: I once got the advice that with those three details, at least one of them should be something out of the ordinary / something unexpected.

Zoe: I read a blog post the other day that was about “forget thinking outside the box; think what you can do within the box.” The point was that limitation breeds creativity, and I think if you limit yourself to just three details, you’re going to put more thought into crafting them. You’re going to make them work harder. (I could be wrong; people could just start tossing three details in. “One, two, three—that’s done, next!”)

Kate: I’m sure some people would do that, but the ones that are thinking hard about their work would probably rise to the challenge.

Ana: *just sitting here eating chocolate*

Zoe: *sitting here wondering if she has time to run out and buy chocolate and still meet her writing goals*

Kate: *sniffing and wishing she hadn’t eaten all the chocolate last night*

Ana: I could run out and buy chocolate and be back here within fifteen minutes… if it weren’t Sunday.

Zoe: So what you’re saying is that in your setting, you can’t get more chocolate until tomorrow morning, but in mine, I can have chocolate in twenty-five minutes and be chomping it down in the car on my way home. The mood for my setting is much more optimistic.

Ana: You would be right if I weren’t a smart bird. I already have chocolate here. And it’s euro-chocolate.

Zoe: That makes my setting look much more dire.

Kate: I think that’s Setting as Conflict.

Zoe: But I get to listen to Stephen King’s Joyland on the way to the store and back.

Kate: Ah, then it’s Setting as Catalyst.

Zoe: I think I’ll add rum to my chocolate. Setting as Enabler. I really didn’t get a lot out of this chapter. It’s basically: establish your setting early, don’t include too much description, include what’s important or unique, and keep mood and theme in mind.

Kate: Pretty much. There were a few good tips near the end, but for someone who has a couple of books under their belt, a lot of this will seem very self-evident. Lots of good information, though, if you’re a little unsure of how to handle your setting, and what you can make it do for you.

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