An Abundance of White Space
I like white space on a page. I like the clarity and simplicity it brings visually, but when it comes to setting, white space is not my friend. I learned in my last Year of the Edit workshop that without enough description of setting, scenes can dangle in white space where the ‘action is suspended in a non-descript place’. Oh yeah. That’s my novel alright. Alas, I have discovered my Achilles’ Heel as a writer: I’m no good at setting.
My homework this month has been to evaluate my scene map in terms of setting. Where does each scene take place? This simple exercise pointed out I have a nasty habit of setting scenes in either the kitchen or the lounge room. Although these are perfectly valid places to have interactions between characters, after the seventeenth time of sitting around the kitchen table chatting, even I’m starting to get bored. I’ve gone through and identified at least eight scenes that can be moved to more dynamic locations, thereby enhancing the emotional impact of the scene.
I also discovered that I use very little description in my writing. I don’t describe characters or physical setting in great detail, if at all. I’m so focussed on capturing the internal state of my characters that I forget they relate to an external world. Some would argue that this can be a stylistic device, and I agree – to a point. My problem is that it’s not stylistic; instead, it’s borne out of a fear of overdoing the description and boring my reader to tears. I’ve swung the opposite direction and have simply not provided enough detail for my readers to truly get a grasp of where the action is taking place.
I think the problem is twofold: on one hand, I have such a clear visual picture of the scenes unfolding in my mind I forget that my reader doesn’t have access to the personal video that is running through my head as I write; on the other hand, I don’t think I was certain enough about the details in my own mind to write about them descriptively. Two opposing forces that result in the same: an abundance of white space.
I intend to remedy this over the next little while. I’ll be focussing on bringing in the five senses to my characters’ experience of their world. I’m going to draw up floor plans of the most common settings so I am consistent in my descriptions. A little belatedly, I know, but I’m searching for photos of the houses that my characters live in so I can have a visual trigger when I’m writing. (I can see them in my head but I really need to have a concrete version to work with.) It’s going to take me quite a while (and I certainly won’t be done by my next workshop on Sunday) but I’m confident with a lot of time and an equal amount of hard work, I’ll have my novel sprinkled with vivid descriptions that will anchor my readers in the story.
I’m never going to be someone who writes eloquent, flowery descriptions of every character, place or event, but I do think my story will be given added depth and richness if I focus on adding pertinent details, a little bit at a time.
How about you? Is setting something that comes easily to you? Or like me, do you struggle when it comes to the details?