One Writer’s Journey

August 11, 2017

Set Your Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:33 am
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Parade. Alpine, Texas. 1924

Recently, Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency posted a summary of her ongoing series “9 Story Openings to Avoid.”  I started to skim the list but was stopped on item #2.  “White Room Syndrome.”  What is that?

White Room Syndrome is what Nelson calls it when a writer forgets to set the story.  They have a character or two. They have action?  But what they don’t have is any kind of setting.

It really isn’t a secret that opening scenes are tough.  Too much dialogue?  Boring.  Heart thumping action?  Who cares! We don’t know the character yet.  From the opening page, you need to strike a balance between starting the story and getting it up.  It’s no surprise that this balance includes that all important part of “setting it up,” the setting.

You have to let the reader know where and when the story takes place.  This doesn’t mean that you have to start with a header – Alpine, Texas. 1924.  Instead, as your character goes about buying supplies and hurrying to school, you give a few setting details.

These need to include the geography.  For this particular setting, you might mention the mountains.  And the desert.  The town name?  That’s a little more difficult but maybe you could work it into the name of a business or school – the Alpine Feed Store or Alpine Elementary.

Don’t forget the time period – that means time of the year as well as the year itself.  Winter?  Sunny but cold.  Maybe a dusting of snow.  Summer?  Heat, but it’s a dry heat.  A mid-summer night might include glow behind the mountains from a grass fire.  For the year itself, you probably aren’t going to get the exact year unless you have your character peruse a newspaper (please, don’t). But you can use details to give a feel for the time period.  A horse tied to a hitching post reacts to a passing car.

Essential though these details may be, you have to work them into the story.  Start with page after page of detailed narrative and you are going to bog things down and lose readers before anything happens.  As with all things in writing, your opening scene must be well-balanced.  Just be sure that balance includes your setting.

For more posts on setting, see “Researching Setting: Walk It When You Can” or “World Building: Setting and Culture.”




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