Saturday, April 22, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Setting

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Fleshing out your Setting helps engage readers. No one likes a scene taking place in a white room filled with nothing. Well, unless that's really where your characters happen to be. Showing us the world they live in helps make the story feel more real. 

Some writers get this just right during the first draft. If this is you, you're a magical unicorn and the rest of us are in awe of you.

The rest of us tend of all into two camps. Those, like me, who write bare bones, and those who describe everything in detail. So, as you're reading along in edit mode, ask yourself, what exactly about this particular setting is important? Those are the details you should convey, preferably though the eyes of your character or their interactions with the setting itself.

Is there a particular smell to the room? Such as a smoke-filled bar.

What are they touching and how do they react to it? Their arms stick to the unwashed wooden bar.

What details do they spot and how are they important to that particular character? Maybe the shadows in the unlit bathroom hallway provide a handy place to stab someone.

Sounds provide yet another avenue for description. Your character may hate the throbbing techno music.

What about anything they are tasting? Let's hope no one is licking the bar, because that's utterly gross, but they may be enjoying a drink or a bowl of pretzels.

If the detail you've so carefully described isn't important to setting the scene or shows us something about the character, then we probably don't need to devote words to it. Filling the story with dense paragraphs of description can kill the pacing or cause readers to skim, thereby possibly missing the important details that were buried inside all that.

There have been a couple writers I've worked with that have basked in the history of the world they've created, sharing tourist-like details about buildings and places throughout the story. Maybe those are of great interest to some readers. Maybe not. Honestly, that's the kind of thing I skim or skip completely. Ask yourself what type of readers you are looking to attract and what readers expect from the genre you're writing. Those details might become part of that first draft archive that only you, the author, truly appreciate. Consider that those cut details might, instead, make an interesting series of blog posts when you're ready to publish.

How do you stack up on first draft setting description: too little, too much, or just right?


  1. I can tend to forget to describe the setting on a first draft, and then I'll do an info dump of detail. Like everything, it's about balance. I appreciate the advice about having it show something about the character.

  2. What you've just written is so important: Setting isn't about describing the background. It's part of the plot, the characters. Excellent post.

  3. Ha! I wish I was a magical unicorn that sets the scenes perfectly first time around. Settings is one of the things one of my beta readers must nudge me to fill in. I'm trying to learn, though, and get more of that included in the first place.

  4. Hi Jean - I think one must remember what the book is about - hence the setting will be set, and not overdo the content, which could easily swamp the setting ... cheers Hilary

  5. Interesting post. I recently read something on creating a fictional world and your discussion of settings made me think of it. Creating the fictional world was likened to creating a character in the research and initial building phase and then weeding out and applying only relevant details to the story.

    Stopping by from A to Z: S for Strange Games

  6. I veer between too much and too little. I used to dwell on descriptions, and got told off. Now I am sometimes being asked to add more description of the surroundings. That's OK, I prefer to add rather than subtract. One thing I will say, though, is that setting is vital to me as a writer. I need to understand and visualize details in order to write. How much of that makes it onto the page is another matter.

  7. And I thought magical unicorns were fiction.

    I usually have a place where the people live and work. I just fail to describe it. lol

  8. I do the five senses thing with storytelling as well. They made descriptions a lot more complete and enjoyable. :)

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

  9. Thank you. Just discovered your site but I'll be back! When I write fiction, I tend to run with the story even though I know of the importance of using all the senses.

    1. Welcome, Shirley. I pour out the first draft in a jumble of words with bare description. It isn't until the first round of edits that I make myself flesh out all the other important stuff.

  10. I write a lot of dialogue in my books so when I do my first edit, I find myself needing to flesh out the setting descriptions. So I often end up with a longer second draft than the first. LOL!

    DB McNicol | Oh, the places we will go! | Tennessee & Texas


Join the conversation. It gets lonely in here without you.