Friday, August 13, 2010

Last But Not Least

Setting is somehow the last thing I put into and polish up in my stories.

From the very beginning, I do have a definite idea about setting, but I don't add much of refine until plot and character are completely flushed out. I think the reason is that I have to know my character first. Then I can write her world as she sees it.

For example, in Drain, my MC (16 year-old Kat) tries to find a quiet place to sort out everything:

I walk away, back toward the church, unwrapping a Jolly Rancher and popping it into my mouth. Outside the gate, I hold the iron spears in both hands. The metal is cold and smooth.

The gate swings open widely when I push it, but the big wooden church doors don’t budge. It’s starting to rain harder, though. Water from my hair is dripping onto my eyelashes. So wandering around the outside of the church, I keep my eyes open for a crack or a crevice I can sink into for a while, at least until the downpour stops.

But after I’ve circled the building twice, I can’t find an opening. I can’t find anything, except some kind of a tomb outlined with seashells.

On my third walk around the church, a flight of steps catches my eye. It’s hidden by dense gardenias, and suffocated by ivy, and it heads down into a cellar or a basement or something. This is just the place, I’m sure of it.

Stepping lightly down the narrow steps, I find a door with an antique knob: tarnished brass, and bumpy, with a key hole underneath. When I twist it slowly, it turns. I crack the door and peek into the darkness. It’s a tiny room with a cement floor, and a big Gothic cross with blackened silver and spirals and vines leans upside-down in a corner.

Widening the door, I find a few chairs stacked on each other, and leather hymnals crammed into a book shelf with empty glass jars.

I sweep my hand along the wall, flicking on the light, a dim single bulb.

From way down here, I hear the tower bell ring five muffled rings.

I’ll give myself an hour.

Closing the door on myself in the little room, I slump against the wall, and I turn the cross right-side up, and I breathe in the leather from the hymnals, and I close my eyes.

This was all put in last. After the story was written.

The setting lends itself to Kat's loneliness, her inner conflict.

She's searching for an opening, literally and figuratively.

She's looking for a place of comfort.

In this scene, Kat is the only living thing among forgotten books and empty jars. And yet she feels at home here.

It is right here, right in this scene, where without even telling her audience, Kat makes a critical decision. Did you find it?

It's when Kat turns the cross right-side-up.

She makes a choice then to serve a greater purpose. She will sacrifice everything she's ever wanted for it.

So setting enriches plot and character, but it also strengthens tone.

This is a sad scene. But there aren't many modifiers or dialogue to show that. It's all in the time, weather, sound, surroundings.


anjie said...

Excellent writing! Love that excerpt. And I love how setting shows what Kat's struggling with.

Anonymous said...

I loved this.

I also add to the setting after I'm done with the bare bones draft.