I’m going to admit it. I struggle with writing the setting.
I think I’m good with details of everyday life, especially food. Food just comes to me, whether it’s Diet Dr Pepper (with no period after ‘Dr’–copy-editor found this one!) or cookie dough. What I’m not as good at, at the get-go, are the surrounding details. Yes, I know how to tell you what the school hallway
looks like, or even the main character’s bedroom, but when I do that in a first draft, the information I include often feels random. I could tell you that the main character has posters of field hockey players, but don’t you already know that? Is there something else I could be telling you?
In fact, as I realized when I did a polish of a recent MS, yes. There are some details that are better than others to share–I just don’t always know it when I’m first-drafting. Take this one hallway scene. Initially, I talked about how it was crowded with kids, crushed together and chatting, blah blah blah. When I reread it, I grimaced at the filler-y nature of it all.
Then I realized, Wait, I had wanted an opportunity to introduce this character Travis, who’s not a main guy but plays an important role in the 4th act (call him Shakespeare’s Messenger.) I wanted to establish that he was into science, so bingo! The hall is full of Travis staggering through the door under the weight of his science project. And oh, now that I think of it, I need to show how it’s getting colder–now some of us are wearing coats! Early on in the drafting, I might not have realized when it was important to show the onset of cold, but later on in the process, I could swap out the filler details and put in evocative ones.
Now that I’ve moved on to a new project, I’m not going to sweat the background details–setting, I guess–so much in the first draft. Sure, there are bits of information I want to share, and I’ll try to sprinkle them deftly, although I’m sure some will end up getting hacked out entirely! But if I get to a scene and I don’t know how to paint the background, I’m not going to drive myself crazy making something up. Instead, I’ll let myself slip in filler, or maybe even write “Blah blah blah,” until the time comes when I know exactly what I want to announce or evoke.
Not the food, though. That stuff bubbles up in draft one. Like the British tea I mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago. I’m hoping that kid stays in the picture.
ps I hope you’ll vote in the poll to the left! What’s the focus of your writing resolutions?