Where in the world are we?

It’s time for the Teens Can Write, Too! monthly blog chain, where one of the two hosts throws a random question vaguely connected to writing at a bunch of blogging teenagers in hopes that one of them will say something brilliant that he or she can publish and they can take credit for!  And I am almost the last on the chain.  It’s ironic, really– I asked for this placement because I thought I’d be pretty tired out after Camp NaNoWriMo in August.  As it turns out, I am actually writing this on the same day that I wrote almost five thousand words to finish that novel, added to a blog post approaching a thousand words.  Am I crazy?  Yes, indeed I am.

And I am also a day late.  I apologize profusely– I wasn’t keeping an eye on the schedule.  I’m extremely sorry.

By the way, introductions are useless wastes of words in which I either lie about my friends or tell the truth about myself.  On to the actual question pitched at all of the underage bloggers around:

“How much does setting affect your novels and stories? What are some of your favorite ways to portray setting?”

I had my answer as soon as I read the question: my setting doesn’t affect my stories in the least.  Then I realized that that was only because I don’t actually describe my settings, which is the second question’s field.

Oh, TCWT!  Couldn’t you have asked about something I’m good at?  …I suppose not.

The truth is that my setting affects my story in a very minimal way.  Occasionally they’ll help out by giving me something I can work with to make a plot twist or something.  Most of the time, however, they’re just settings.  It’s almost like all those commercials that have the object being advertised– be it a car, a tablet, a box of Cheez Flooples– set against a background that changes every time a finger swipes across the television screen.  All of my characters would function in the same way in whatever setting I choose to stick them in.  The entirety of my latest novel could happen in the Empire State Building or the Space Needle, if I wanted it to.  Unfortunately, there would be a lot of rooms overrun with exploding hares.  My characters decide what happens in the story– not my settings, which I think is how it should be.

In something like the Phil Phorce episodes I do here, the setting is useful.  Right now the Phils are occupying the Castle Under the Cloud, which I’m able to have a lot of fun with.  They can do almost anything they want because they’ve got an entire cloud to romp around on, and an entire basement full of torture implements and other objects– all objects except the ones my characters need at the crucial moment.  This makes for a lot of fun.

Another example is my latest novel, Fathoming Egression.  (I’m laughing because I feel like I’m saying that with the air of a published author… “This is my latest novel.  You can buy it in stores this Tuesday, or on Amazon with an exorbitant shipping fee.  Feel free to compliment me on the cover art because I had no say in what it looked like.”)  The setting helps in a very minimal way.  The oceans are acidic, but no one is tortured by being slowly marinated in the water or anything.  The islands do happen to undergo a massive reconstitution every year or so, which is key when my main character needs to steal an island.  So perhaps the Empire State Building wouldn’t work.

One of the only other things that directly affect my stories is the time period these things are set in.  If you’re writing something in medieval countries, the weapons and people are going to be medieval.  Quod erat demonstrandum.

This has been approximately half of the post so far, so on to the next half of the question.  I hope I’ve answered the first half sufficiently.

To portray setting, I… don’t.  I don’t describe things well.  I tend to use only “it was” statements, which tends to make descriptions that are boring to write and to read.  I’ve heard a lot about showing instead of telling, but if someone could translate that into English, it would help me a lot.  Since I don’t describe things well, I don’t tend to tell a lot about the setting.  If a section of country is wooded, I don’t tend to say that until it becomes necessary to do so, like when the protagonist is hiding from his clogging assassin behind a tree shaped like a taller Humpty Dumpty.  If there’s a lake somewhere nearby, maybe I’ll say so prior to the main character getting killed.  Maybe.  These things come and go.

As for portraying settings on a larger scale, such as describing a world, I don’t do that either.  I wish it would just become obvious, like it does when the main character hides behind a tree in that last example.  But that doesn’t work, more often than not.

I’m working on that.  Descriptions are my weak point, definitely.

This is where the problem lies, though: when the setting has to become obvious as the main character interacts with it, and the character never does, then the setting never becomes obvious.

That sums up my answers to both questions, I believe.  When my setting never affects the story, and I never describe the setting otherwise, there is no setting.  Whoops.

Again, if anyone can tell me what that “show, don’t tell” phrase means, please let me know.

Here are the other people answering the same question in infinitely better ways:

September 5–http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com–Musings From Neville’s Navel

September 6–http://oliviasopinions.wordpress.com–Olivia’s Opinions

September 7–http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com–Miriam Joy Writes

September 8–http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com–Kirsten Writes!

September 9–http://writingbeyondthemoon.blogspot.com–Beyond the Moon

September 10–http://crazyredpen.blogspot.com–Crazy Red Pen

September 11–http://ebonquill.wordpress.com–The Ebony Quill

September 12–http://realityisimaginary.blogspot.com–Reality Is Imaginary

September 13–https://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com–This Page Intentionally Left Blank

September 14–http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

September 15–http://allegradavis.wordpress.com–All I Need Is A Keyboard

September 16–http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com–Teens Can Write, Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

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40 Comments

  1. Charley R

     /  September 14, 2012

    “Show, don’t tell”. Ah, that blasted conundrum.
    What I’ve always taken it as meaning is to, really, just slip mention of the setting in here and there more sparingly than one might do in a passage that is purely descriptive of the aforementioned. Basically, to do what you do – get the character to find reasons to interact with the setting, or the setting to interact with the character (killer daisies are great for this). “Show”, effectively, is inferring the setting when and as you need it.

    Unhelpful, and probably nonsensical, but true.

    Reply
    • I’ll try to figure that out once Gandalf returns my dictionary– he wanted it as a prop in a retelling of the Balin’s Tomb scene.

      Reply
    • That’s good advice, Charley. I’ll have to keep that in mind, and I think you’re right. That’s a brilliant way of putting it, thank you.

      My settings don’t affect the story overly much either. I have one story which actually does in part take place at the Empire State Building, ironically enough. I do think that New York really is the best place for the story. Later my characters do go to Ireland, so the setting is important there as well. However, it’s not like I *live* for setting. In one of my stories however setting plays a huge role as my characters are time travelers and bounce between many planets that have all kind of different scenic landscapes. So in that novel, setting is one of my favorite parts about it.

      Gandalf’s coming over for tea tomorrow, I’ll tell him you two said hi. And that he needs to return a certain dictionary.

      Reply
      • Indeed.

        Ah, thank you. Much obliged.

      • Charley R

         /  September 15, 2012

        Aheheheheh, glad you liked it!

        Also, please don’t tell Gandalf. He still hasn’t forgiven me for that time The Doctor and I turned him into a gnome for a week. Seriously, I do NOT want to meet him until he’s had time to stop fuming about it!

      • Um. *cough* Too late. He’s been to tea and gone, and I told him already. And yes, he’s mad. *cough* Sorry about that.

  2. *noms Cheez Flooples and reads*

    Reply
  3. I’m still unraveling the mystery of show, don’t tell, but here are my thoughts. Telling the reader your character is silly would be “Baron Pollard was a silly man”, but showing that he is silly would be having him do something silly in a scene. That way the reader gets it without being told outright. If that makes any sense. If not, here are two blog posts from Go Teen Writers that talk about showing vs. telling: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/06/showing-vs-telling.html and http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/07/how-to-avoid-description-bog.html (you’ll have to scroll down a bit to see where she talks about show, don’t tell in this one).

    Reply
  4. Yup. I might as well not have a setting at all, really.

    I did try to actually have a setting in my last novel, though… but all the rest, nope.

    Reply

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