Writing a landscape – you’ll be lost if you don’t…

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You’ve got this great story with a really neat ending. You’ve nailed the character – there was this teacher at your school who, with a bit of tweaking, will fit snugly into the part.

Fizzling with creative excitement, you spend the next week slaving over the computer. But on returning to your masterpiece for the first editing session, you are disappointed. It, somehow, seems rather flat. Which is odd – because the character is just as you envisaged and that cool plot twist has worked well, too. Chances are, if you are still scratching your head, your story is lacking an adequate setting. It’s crucial. But can get easily overlooked while trying to marshal all the other vital ingredients necessary to write a zinger.

Another classic ‘newbie’ writing fault is to give us a quick sketch during the opening paragraphs and then never touch on the scenery surrounding the action, again. However, it’s a tricky balancing act. Neither do we want detailed descriptions stretching into paragraphs, where your characters seem to have vanished while you are busy telling us about the lashing rain/drenched cityscape/squalid neighbourhood… How to get the mix just right, so that your characters and action are adequately anchored, without drowning your story in too much description?

This is where our old friend POV (point of view) comes to the rescue. You filter your backdrop through your protagonist– her thoughts, actions and reactions to the weather/Christmas shopping crowds/the herd of cows clogging up the country lane…

If you have multiple viewpoints, you can have some fun with one character loving the café – while another loathes it. Take care if you are writing short fiction, though. I don’t generally recommend switching viewpoints in any story less than 2,500 words. It CAN be done effectively, but you need to be skilful to pull it off.

Writing science fiction, my everyday surroundings can be of limited or no help. I find that using my characters to describe their landscape (or spacescape) is a huge help in getting the setting sufficiently depicted.

At times, I have also found the writing frame below to be useful in jogging my elbow. Although it is fairly crude, notice how it employs all the senses, ensuring that I haven’t neglected any of them. I’ve found it handy when writing a number of scenes in my books, when I don’t necessarily want to describe everything single thing around me to my readership – but I sure as heck want my character to be able to visualise it…

The air was ………………………………………… around me. A few steps in front of me I could see…………………………………
and above me ………………………………………… . The sound of
…………………………………………could be heard. To my right, ……………………………………, while to my left, ……………………
………………………… . Listening, I could hear …………………… …………………and the smell of ………………………………………… filled my nose. It felt ………………………………………… .

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