Posted by Kate Parker Oct 29 2012, 12:19 am
or, we don’t allow talking heads here.
In honor of Halloween, we’re going to talk about a subject today that groans and shivers. Setting. A talking head is just a term for dialog-heavy writing where the reader has no sense of where the characters are, what they look like, and what they’re doing. Unless the head is sitting on a table or discovered in the trunk of a car.
Immediately, you begin to imagine all sorts of scenarios, with guillotines or zombies or serial killers. As writers, we need to harness our readers’ imaginations to the words we put on the page. And that is the reason setting can be such a powerful tool.
Take the sentence, “Apparently, you haven’t been here before.”
Now add: Water seeped down the walls and flowed in the concrete ditches beneath the slippery metal walkway. Eve clung to the thin railing, her only protection from the rotten cabbage smell rising up to drag her into the dizzying rush of the storm drains. Above her, Paris in the rain was familiar, loved, captive. Down here she was lost, with only a guide she didn’t trust taking her to a rendezvous with the resistance, or the Gestapo.
Her guide twisted his head around, his eyes glinting demonically in the erratic light of the lantern. “Apparently, you haven’t been here before.”
Or: The throbbing in her head lessened enough that Eve was aware of the shackles around her wrists and ankles. A strip of light shone through a crack above her head, glaring with intensity on dust mites and the skull of the skeleton chained to the wall opposite her. She jerked when her eyes focused enough to make out what it was. Immediately she shut her eyes against the pain.
Then a voice, rusty from disuse, said, “Apparently, you haven’t been here before.”
Or: The house was frightening enough in daylight. By night, with only a sliver of a moon and no nearby street lights, it was eerie. Every small animal scurrying through the weeds, every board creaking under her feet on the porch, every scream of the night birds, proclaimed this was a bad idea. A stiff October breeze nearly blew her off the porch, making her feet tremble as they inched toward the door.
As she raised her hand to knock, the door swung open. The man standing there was young, handsome, and stripped to the waist. Eve stared at the well-muscled chest, unable to form a coherent thought, much less speak.
He gave a deep chuckle and said, “Apparently, you haven’t been here before.”
Same sentence, different settings. While dialog is important, and probably the easiest thing to write on a first draft, setting is what makes our stories vibrant. We all have our favorite settings to place our stories in. The trick is to make that setting come as alive on the page as it is in our head.
What’s your favorite setting? And do you start planning a story around where you will set it, or do you have the story first and then find a good setting in which to anchor it?