This week’s video offers suggestions for balancing the perception that reader dislike setting description with the reality that every book needs a vivid setting.
We hear a lot of chatter these days about description being a bad thing. Writers don’t dare include more than a skimpy paragraph of setting description lest readers cry foul and claim the book is boring. But the far side of this slippery slope is also a pretty boring place. Setting is integral to every story, and the more vivid and memorable a setting, the more vivid and memorable the book. So now, of course, the question we’re all screaming in frustration is, “How do we balance the restrictions on description with the need for a well-realized setting?”
To some extent, the answer is found in the question itself—and that is balance. The truth is readers really don’t mind setting description so long as it entertains them. This may seem a little counterintuitive at first, since few of us would seem likely to be entertained by paragraphs of description about a dusty field. But think about it. Isn’t one of the reasons we read (and write) because we want the opportunity to explore places that might otherwise be off-limits to us?
Do not shortchange your settings in the belief that readers don’t care. They do care—but not so much about the way things look as about how it feels to experience them. Use all the senses. Use specific details. Don’t be afraid to include a couple solid paragraphs if you need to, but also disperse your info throughout your story. You’re going to want to assume that, no matter what kind of setting you’re writing, at least some of your readers are going to be unfamiliar with it. That dewy mountain morning smell you take for granted will either be a new revelation for readers who have never visited the mountains or a reaffirmation of the familiar. So don’t cut corners in the belief that they’ll fill in the blanks on their own. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.