Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Setting and Background in Fiction (Part 4 of 8)

On Amazon, I read a review of a famous literary novel that said the author must have been reading a roadmap when he wrote one particular chapter. For 20 pages the author details the places he stopped to eat breakfast, have morning coffee, and so on. None of it, apparently, was germane to the plot.

Some writers become enamored with travel information and seem to think it's important. Here's the question they need to ask: Will readers care? Or another question someone suggested is this: If you delete the information, would readers miss it?

A writer friend said, "I don't give any background unless it has some direct bearing on the story. Otherwise readers might ask, 'Why did she put that in the book?'"

Don't clog your prose
with long passages about background or travel.

7 comments:

  1. Good points! One of my favorite authors tends to do this, sets all her books in NYC & seems intent on impressing readers w/ her knowledge of it. You know, "She turned east on 42nd, then south on Travis, then went two blocks to Avon..." etc. Disgusting. Unless it has something to do w/ the plot, I don't care where she goes!!! You are so right, not a travelogue.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I found I just want to have the background in my head, whether it shows up on paper or not depends on how the story is moving.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another habit that slows the story down is detailing a job the character does. Give us snippets of info. as they move the story along; please don't bore us with the 12,000 steps of her job. Even if you know all the ins and outs of newspaper publishing or biochemistry, to tell your reader in minute detail comes across as showing off.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Cec! Your brief and powerful blogs are THE BEST! All of us bloggers should follow your example. But what I like most about your blogs is that I always LEARN or am AFFIRMED. THANKS so much. . . :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. When it's fiction, you can do anything you want in any historical setting. You can have a robbery in front of the Lincoln Memorial. If you do, be accurate with details of the place. Inaccuracy of place brings skepticism.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I had a copy editor who asked me to put in the name of the street my character was on after she got off the subway in NYC. I'd had the subway stop and thought that was enough.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jean makes a good point about adding the street. It's a mall detail and easy to research. To write, he turned north or left on Lexingtonm implies that you know the city.

    ReplyDelete

What are your thoughts?