How do you decide what to include and what not to include when you are describing the setting in your novel?
I read Ken Follett’s novel Whiteout, and realized I didn’t skim a word. I started thinking about why I wasn’t skimming the narrative, something I tend to do because I’m not that interested in flowery descriptions. Others love it, but I like a fast paced story where I can relate to the characters.
After I finished the novel, I opened the first page of Whiteout and got out my pink highlighter. I highlighted every setting description. Since I’d already read the book, on my second reading I knew how the setting would be used.
I discovered that Follett spent time on setting description only if it was relevant to the story. This may seem obvious, and sometimes I need an idea to hit me on the head, but it became clear that I didn’t skim because I needed to know what the setting looked like to understand the latter scenes.
Try this with a novel where you didn’t skim any text, and see if you discover the same thing I did. There are so many ways to learn 🙂
Now when I’m describing a place, I do it twice. Once in full detail, so I understand and know it. Then I write it a second time, cutting what doesn’t need to be there and leaving the bits that will end up in the novel. These bits are the parts the reader needs to understand in order to believe and be engaged in the story.
When proofreading, I check for description that isn’t needed. Cut – cut – cut and into the garbage it goes. (Okay so really, stored in a folder on my computer but you get the point.)