Subtle Ways to Set the Scene

Setting the scene is likely the most difficult part of the writing process. Navigating it can be frustrating and complicated; You never know if you’re telling too much, too little, or if you’re even getting the point across at all. Often times you’ll add long paragraphs of detailed scenery and hope it’s not too much. Well, today, I’m going to be listing my tips on how to set the scene without the info dumps and anxiety. There’s many ways of setting the scene that we often don’t think about. I’ll be going into my top three.

One surefire way of setting the scene without using a spotlight is dialogue. Having your characters comment on the surroundings not only paints a picture, but 1) tells the audience what your characters are thinking right off the bat, and 2) leaves enough blanks for the readers to fill in what they’d like. Or, you can use those blanks to balance out what’s given in dialogue and what’s given in narration. For example:

“I hate it here,” she grumbled, pulling her jacket tighter around her frame to shield herself from the biting cold.
    He shrugged one shoulder, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. He kept a fist around the bag of coins in his pocket. “It’s not too bad.”
    “It’s cramped, and you can never find what you came for.” She eyed the stalls with distaste. “It’s a scam.”

My next tip is kind of like the inverted version of the last one- Action. Instead of using dialogue to balance out the descriptions, you can use actions.

    He ran his fingers through the grass, pulled, and ripped the rich strands from the ground. He held his palm to the sky- A brilliant, yellow-orange spectrum of light -and the breeze carried the strands down the hillside, out of sight.

You can clearly see where the boy is and what it’s like there. You can, of course, add a few more details- Maybe something about how the wind feels, or if it’s hot or cold, etc. These first two tips can easily improve your writing and make your descriptions less overwhelming for the reader.

And, finally, you can use feelings and emotions to describe your setting. This may seem confusing- What does emotion have to do with the setting? -but it’s really easy to incorporate. Don’t say it was in the middle of summer. Say they were sweating uncontrollably, rolling up their sleeves and regretting wearing such a thick shirt. Don’t say they were passing a dump- Say they were wrinkling their nose, walking faster to avoid the stench. This is a rare technique where you won’t have to balance it with anything- Maybe add a tiny bit of clarity narration, but overall, you can use this one on its own! But be careful- That doesn’t mean it’s any easier than the rest. Half ass it and you can create a lot of confusion.

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❤ Max

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