Monday, November 29, 2010

Rooting Your Characters in Their Setting

 I am a lover of nature. Snapping pictures of my favorite characters (my family!) in natural landscapes is a favorite past time of mine. The best pictures inevitably happen when I can get a candid shot of my boys interacting with the "setting" not just giving me a big smile with the natural beauty in the background.

Every time I sit down and write, I find myself wanting to describe the environment with vivid imagery and paint the stage with an elaborate set.
My biggest challenge is to not get carried away with a two page description and leaving the character behind!

As I have been hammering away at my latest wip I've tried to be very aware of my tendency to do this. Here are some before and after examples to show you what I mean:
The skies were dull and forging rain clouds as we made a quiet procession home.

Dull skies forging rain clouds mirrored my spirit as we made a quiet procession home.

I think it is more worth it to the reader to use the setting as a device for developing the character.

I carried Ina on my hip, her brown skin blending with my own. We stepped onto our land, carpeted with red earth. 

Our skin blended together, a deeper shade of the red earth which carpeted our land. And when I stepped out into the new day, my feet began to dress themselves in the dust.

I feel like this grounds (no pun intended :) ) the character to her setting, by actively using the setting in a physical way.

I am still finding it a challenge to keep the constant flow between the elements of my story, but when I allow myself to construct and reconstruct sentences for that final punch, it makes the writing wrestle so much fun!


Sarah Forgrave said...

"The writing wrestle"...Love that, Angie! :)

Saumya said...

Love this! First of all, these pictures are gorgeous and second, I love your examples of using setting to show character.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Angie, that's a great tip - to use setting as a way to develop your character. There are so many times in writing that less is more. Writing description can be one of them. Better to use strong, worthwhile descriptions, than long ones that may be beautiful but usually don't hold the readers interest.

Keli Gwyn said...

Angie, I like the way you use setting to reveal more about your characters. Thanks for sharing your great examples that show us how to do so.

Angie Dicken said...

Thanks gals! I am sure there are several techniques out there, thought I'd share this one since it's fresh on my mind! Sarah- sometimes I wrestle with one sentence for several better word for it! :)

Amber Holcomb said...

Thank you for the advice and examples! Great food for thought! :D


Mary Vee Writer said...

What I especially appreciated was your willingness to craft your story in an appealing way for your reader. Your examples demonstrate your heart's desire to be an accomplished author. They are well done.
So when we see the fruit of tuning a WIP, as we did with yours, we are encourage to plow into our WIPs and do the same.

Renee Ann said...

Love these examples of connecting character to setting!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Kind of neat how God teaches us what we need to know in our writing. I was recently listening to John Olson on audio talking about using our setting to describe our characters.

I love your great examples! Makes it more concrete for me and something I'll definitely have to play with more in my own writing.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Goodness, you paint lovely word pictures! I am not a "poetic" writer. At all. I wish I was, but well, I'm just not. Your examples are beautiful!

Pepper said...

Beautiful imagery, Ang. Wow!! And characterization through setting? Oh yeah, wish I could do it as well as you. It's important to keep our characters 'involved' - even as we write setting, so that for readers who are searching for character driven novels there is still that lifeline even in the setting.
Love it.
And the pics of your family are great :-)
You are an artist through and through. Writing and photography. Do you paint or draw too?

Angie Dicken said...

You gals are so kind. I am sure by the end of it, I will have changed everything!! Ha!
Pepper...I am sure you weren't looking for an answer really, but I love to draw! :)
Seriously though, you just made me think of another aspect of all this...don't weigh too heavily in the setting, and use it as a crutch to move along shallow characters...hmmm...deep thoughts.

Casey said...

Sorry I missed this yesterday Angie! I loved your before and after scenes. Especially this one: Our skin blended together, a deeper shade of the red earth which carpeted our land. And when I stepped out into the new day, my feet began to dress themselves in the dust.

So beautiful!! Really paints a very clear picture of both the land and the characters. Getting the right balance is so crucial. Thanks for doing this post, love the pics too. :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Really love the mirrored my spirit one. I like how you blend both character emotion with setting. Powerful tool. Makes me think about another element to look for when I edit.
~ Wendy