Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Much Detail Does the Setting Need?

Since I've been thinking a lot about setting lately, I was thrilled to discover this great article on the importance of setting at Cynsations. Here's a quote that lingered with me (also included on my Cool Blog Quotes):

"You chose that setting for a reason, mine it so that readers can feel that sense of place for themselves. For your audience, a rich setting is the difference between watching characters and being there with them."

For me, one of the tricky things about building settings for MG is knowing how much detail to include. We know MG readers don't want to get bogged down in a lot of detail that isn't relevant to the story. When deciding about how much detail to include for a setting here are some things I think about:

1. Is the detail necessary to give the reader a clearer picture of what is happening or where the scene is taking place?

2. Does the detail help to strengthen a feeling or impression about the mood of the story?

3. Sometimes, it's helpful to stop and think about what the reader might already know about the setting. For example, there are things about a school setting or home setting that the reader will take for granted, from their own experience. As writers, we can use that and only include the unusual or interesting to build another layer on what the reader already knows.

How do you make sure you aren't overwhelming the reader with too much setting detail?

Author P.C Wrede has a great post on details vs. clutter.


  1. I have such a hard time deciding how much is too much with description, but you're right; if it doesn't add to the scene or tell the reader something they HAVE to know, it should go. Darn, that's so hard to determine sometimes!

  2. Really interesting. I've been thinking about setting lately as well. I'm thinking about making my first vlog on setting...I think I'll come back and read this post again!

  3. Good question! I tend to over-describe setting because I love to do it and then have to go back and cut a lot out.

  4. I'm a firm believer that POV and description go together. If your MC, being the kind of person she is, in the kind of predicament she is, in the emotional state she is, would notice it, it belongs. Otherwise, it's either out or very questionable.

  5. Great post and I like the questions you ask yourself! Yeah, I think less is more! As a reader, I tend to skim over too much detail!

  6. I write in first person, so settings aren't described in one long stream of sentences at the beginning of the scene. I have to interweave small details during dialogue and thoughts. It can be hard, but it's fun to find new ways to give the reader a little more. Great quote, by the way!

  7. Thanks for the tips!

    Marcia, I think that it's especially important in writing for kids to really get into the POV and include only what that character would notice. Otherwise, there's just too much.

    Emily, I think there are cases where you can get away with a a couple of lines of description at the beginning of a scene, but mostly it is a matter of weaving it in --- hopefully in a way that doesn't make it stick out as unnatural, like some product placements I've seen in TV shows lately.


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