So, seeing as I a. Obviously not at my usual winters abode right now I figured it was a good time to write about setting. I must apologize in advance for any terrible spelling errors and such as I’m working from my ipad – without the necessary external keyboard that might make things go a little more smoothly.
Anyway. I’ve whined a lot about character and a little bit about plot lately – mostly dealing with television characters and shows, but also just generally about some different ways to think about those things when crafting your own stories and such. Now it’s time to talk about setting. I mean you can’t solve a crime in a vacuum can you? Nope.
In fact, what’s probably going to happen is your setting will become incredibly important – what you describe and how you describe it provides not just your characters but their writer and the readers with the clues necessary to keep on going. Setting is the canvas and score of your slaughter. From a Minnesota winter moonscape near an abandoned Indian casino, to a wharf side warehouse, to a bright beautiful beach. Homicide happens everywhere. And that’s just on the small scale.
Beyond that, on a larger scale, a city or countryside or moon base is a living breathing element. Get in touch with its pulse. Find the character of it. This is, in many ways, just as critical as finding the germs of character and allowing them to lie to you. Cities lie to you. Pastoral landscapes are full of shit. Just think of all those pretty houses all in a row, white picket fence, smiling homeowners with their 2.5 kids all bright for the camera. Think of that perfectly manicured lawn covering the long mouldering body of…. Who?
Settings reveal, but only what they’ve already concealed. When I’m writing about Milwaukee or Minneapolis – my two main settings right now – I try and take a long long long view of things. I like getting into the history and the things people know but never say: how that nice neighborhood bar was once (and maybe still is) a mob joint or how that beautiful little yellow house is actually a drug squat. I like thinking of the freeways and highways as arteries, people as blood cells, neighborhoods as organs. When you work in mysteries you know where the sickness is, you know what disease has effected which place.
Of course we tend to think of this in different terms in regular workaday life – this neighborhood is “bad” etc. But don’t you always know why it’s bad? You may not even know where you came by that knowledge but you know it when you feel it don’t you? Sure you do. Or your an idiot about to walk into a bad situation. Which, when writing fiction, is a useful little tool.
Basically the space you are letting your characters work in needs to have as much character as the characters themselves or your cheating yourself. But how do you get there? Well…. The same way you get anywhere with this writing stuff: dig around in your own head for it. It’s all there – the emotions of it, the poetry of it, the color, temperature… Find places your drawn to, or horrified by, something that makes you feel something and try to write a description of WHY it makes you feel something. And for gods sake let it breathe! There is no “empty box” in a room nor even any empty box rooms. A brand new, sparkling empty space still has the scent of fresh paint in the air, the light that comes through the window is bright or dappled from the shade of a tree or scarred with it winter skeleton. The empty box in the center of the room? What is it? Do you see it? Are there markings on the side, indentations of something inside the box? A stain? Was it taped shut? Is the tape now hanging ragged from the flaps? Of course that’s more prop than setting but remember when it comes to your homicides the setting and its props are going to tell the story.
Another handy little tip is music. Whenever I’m really scratching around in the dry leaves of my brain I’ll listen to something with its own warehouse of character. Tom Waits makes me think of New York in the 70s – a place I’ve never been and can’t ever be but I listen to it and I can feel it. Springsteen makes me think of the Jersey Shore in its wild and raucous youth. Or Duke Ellington and old time speakeasies and flashy cars. It’s not that these are cueing you to a specific setting but they can generally help you tap the emotional vein of them. Which is all you really need to put together a vivid description. You aren’t describing the thing of the thing, see? It’s the feeling of the thing – both intellectual and emotional.
Anyway. That’s all done now. Sorry if this is coming off a little mo terse than usual – it’s really not that easy writing on an iPad. Kinda sucks actually. I seriously need an external keyboard this is Ridiculous.