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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Setting the Scene

Some of you are probably aware of the Macmillan/Amazon flap that started Friday. Even though I write for Tor, who is under the Macmillan umbrella, I don't plan to blog about this tonight. There are many other people who've said things much better than I have, and frankly, I'm tired of thinking about this. I wasted far too much time this weekend reading about what was going on instead of writing.

Instead, let's talk about something much more fun. Stories and setting. :-)

I confess, as a reader I skim/skip description. If you tell me the characters are in a hotel room, I'll create my own visual, thank you very much, and I hate it when the author's vision intrudes on mine. Imagine my surprise when I found out not all people feel this way about reading. :-) It required I start thinking a lot more about setting in my stories and that I spend word count on the details.

Some authors get their stories like a movie and just jot down what they see. Unfortunately, I don't see much. I get my stories in words. I hear the characters talk to each other, I listen to their internal monologues, and I try to piece things together from there. But it's tough to set the scene when you don't see the scene. So I spend a lot of time on Google and Yahoo's image search engines. Also, Flickr and Webshots are my friends.

This isn't necessarily the easiest thing in the world, though. When people take pictures, they're not thinking, wow, I know an author would really like this view so let me frame it for her. No, I find tons of shots that don't do me any good or are too small. I get frustrated by all the people who protect their pictures on Flickr. I understand you don't want people using your pics. Truly. But I'm not going to repost them. I only want to study them until I have the scene set in my mind. ;-)

The scene I'm writing right now has the hero arriving at Venice Beach. I've used VB as a setting more than once for a couple of reasons. The most important is that I've actually been there. The second being I loved that place! Talk about fun and so many different types of people there. Perfect for so many different stories. :-) And you'd think finding pictures of Venice Beach would be easy. Not so much.

Today's search, and I do redo the searches even though I have a lot of pictures from the earlier books I set there, yielded me a ton of posing muscle dudes. Which I wouldn't object to if I wasn't on a mission. I finally had to redo the search to eliminate the guys.

The problem continues, though. I hardly took any pictures when I went to Venice Beach and that was a while ago now. I can't remember the layout of the place all that well any more, and TBH, I was more interested in shopping with my friends than I was thinking, wow, I'm going to set stories here some day so let me imprint this in my memory. What was I thinking?

When I see the pictures online, they don't help me place where they are in relation to anything else and that's what makes it tough for me. What I'd love to see is a pieced together set of pictures that took me along the entire length of the Venice Beach boardwalk. Surely someone, somewhere did something like that, right? Just for me? :-) Sigh. Probably not.

I've learned important lessons, though. When traveling, take many, many, many pictures. Make notes. Expand notes when I get back to the hotel room. Caption pictures with additional details. Don't count on my memory or random photographers to post their pictures online.

Setting/description will probably always continue to be something I struggle with simply because it's not something that's important to me as a reader. Plus, sometimes it's just plain hard to describe things right without bringing the story to a screeching halt or wasting far too much word count when I already run over word count on every book. Ah, well, I'll get this scene described yet. Or die trying. ;-)