SENSE OF PLACE – HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

I love to write description. It makes me more comfortable with my story. But, how much is enough?

As writers we’re often told to include sense of place in our work. So we promptly get busy and write reams of description in each scene or chapter, thinking this will solve the problem. Well, it won’t, it only creates another one. Readers will skip over that and we’ll still have failed to put the reader into the story.

So, as writers, we can write all that description if it makes us feel good, but in the end, very little of it will go in the scene.

For example:

The hills spread out at his feet, the trees lush and green in the summer sunlight. Behind him, the long climb over craggy rocks, clinging to tree roots and saplings to gain the peak.

Not a bad two sentences, but think about this:

He placed a booted foot on an outcropping of rocks, reached to grab at a tree root, overhanded to a sapling and hoisted himself to the top of the mountain.  Gravel scattered down the path at his back. Wind in his face, he scanned the hills, spread out below. Thick trees, lush and green in the summer sunlight, blocked his view of the trail and the hikers who continued to elude him.

Now you’ve written a much more interesting paragraph. Why? Because you included your POV character and the action in the scene. The first example is more like author intrusion, or an omniscient statement that means very little to the story.

If you were to place your character in a room, how much of that decor do you have to describe to put your reader there? Not much, really.

Your character can walk across a thick carpet that mutes his footsteps, sit in a brocaded chair, stare past heavy drapes or none at all through huge windows that let in the gloom of a rainy afternoon. Let him internalize about what is about to happen. Someone he is meeting who will mean a lot to the plot, or his childhood spent there. Something that feeds the reader’s constant appetite for action, information, characterization and most especially his need to be encompassed by the story.

So think about it, are you drowning your reader in unnecessary description or giving him none at all? Hit a happy medium and remember it’s the characters who are most important. What they want, what keeps them from getting it, and what they’re willing to do to get it. It’s pretty simple really. Only trouble is, exceptional writing is difficult. And we have to work at it. Who knew?

Order Dream Walker and The Montana Trilogy here:
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Watch for the release of Stone Heart’s Woman from The Wild Rose Press in February, 2012
Read first chapters on my website.

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About veldabrotherton

I'm primarily a writer, but I also speak and teach workshops and co-chair a large critique group. My brand is SexyDarkGritty and that applies to my western historical romances, mysteries, women's fiction and horror novels. After almost 30 years in this business, I still have something to learn and attend conferences to network with other writers, publishers, editors and agents.
This entry was posted in action, author intrusion, characterization, description, omniscience, POV, sense of place, Velda Brotherton. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to SENSE OF PLACE – HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

  1. Vero says:

    Great post, Velda! Your examples and concise explanation are really helpful. Indeed, many beginning writers confuse setting with the dull (or sometimes purple) enumeration of the characterictics of a place, and forget that people experience reality through their senses, not abstractly. Including your POV, or at least engaging the reader's senses while tracing a setting is one of the most important tools to suspend disbelief and bring a story to life. 🙂

  2. Using actions to show description is probably the best tip I've ever heard for writing description. Your examples are great too!

  3. Klaus Schilling says:

    No, I will not\, under no circunstrances whatsoever, resort to action to achieve anything like that. The one and only acceptable way for me is omniscient exposition, and therefrom I cannot be deterred by any of your “show, don’t tell” propaganda. I dio not follow that foolish injunction, never did, and never will.

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