Barbara White Daille
|Barbara White Daille|
Hello, Seekers! I’m so happy to be visiting again and am looking forward to a fun day of sharing, learning, and chatting. Just remember, what I’ll be saying comes from my own experience, and your mileage may vary.
Our topic for the day is setting, so fix your beverage of choice, grab one of the chocolate-chip muffins I’ve brought along, and settle back in your own comfy surroundings for this read. ;)
As we know, setting can play a very important part in a story. Getting the details right can be a tricky thing to do, as readers all have their own tastes regarding how much or how little description they want to see in a book. For example, I tend not to like reading huge chunks of description, including setting. That means I need to work very hard at remembering to layer setting into my fiction.
For me, the important thing to remember when describing a location in a story is that we want to orient the reader in our fictional world, no matter where that might be—even if it's simply our character’s backyard.
From my days of being a mystery reader and writer, I learned to lay out the details of setting the way a mystery author would lay out clues. To weave them into the action and dialogue and introspection of a scene. In other words, to “hide” them in plain sight.
When a mystery is solved, we want readers to shake their heads and say, “I should have seen that.” With setting, we want those readers to feel they’re living in the story, occupying that place with the characters. We want them to think, “I can see that.”
When weaving setting into a scene, the description—again, for me—must play double- if not triple-duty, including: orienting the reader, revealing character, and/or furthering the plot.
Description can also do so much more. Sometimes, setting a scene includes descriptions of characters. For example, reading about females in high-buttoned shoes and dresses with bustles very like puts the reader into historical settings.
I’m going to share a few snippets from some of my own stories, as they’re what I know best.
In the first of my Flagman’s Folly books, A Rancher’s Pride, the hero has just received the stunning news he’s the daddy of a little girl he doesn’t believe he has fathered. Here’s his first sight of her:
A beautiful little girl. The daughter he’d always hoped for, the start of the family he’d never had.
He shook his head. Pipe dreams, for sure. Ronnie had never told a true story in her life. This child couldn’t be his.
As he moved another step into the room, she looked up. Small and blonde, just as his mom had said. And more.
The girl’s eyes shone in the light from the table lamp beside the couch. Silver-gray eyes surrounded by dark lashes, a perfect match to his own.
His throat tightened. He felt frozen in place.
She gave him a shy smile.
He’d seen that half-twisted grin in plenty of his own childhood pictures. Not impossible after all. The child was his.
In the clip above, I wanted to give the reader a first glimpse of Becky through Sam’s own initial impression. And of course, I wanted Becky’s description to further the plot.
What the reader (and Sam!) learns in the remaining few paragraphs of the scene is that Becky is deaf.
This clip comes from the scene that follows:
Looking out across the yard, he said, “Laying in fence, breaking a horse, rounding up cattle. Jack, those jobs, you know I can handle with my eyes closed.”
The foreman nodded.
“But this...” How could he take care of a deaf four-year-old daughter he hadn’t, till yesterday, even known existed?
Raising his gaze, he looked as far as he could see, focusing on the higher pastures and, above them, the ranks of pinon and pine. Viewing the extent of his ranch usually gave him pleasure, but right now, even that sight couldn’t take him from his troubles.
Above, we see Sam in familiar surroundings, viewing a setting he himself states usually gives him pleasure. Not too obviously, I hope, the clip also hints he would normally take strength from his land, as well, but is now too shaken by all the news about Becky.
This is part of the same scene:
Late afternoon sunbeams slanted through the cedar trees edging the yard. Becky ran from a patch of darkness into light and back again, playing her private, silent game. As they watched, she stumbled. Sam slapped his hand flat against the wooden barn door. If she hurt herself, how would he comfort her?
Geez. Talk about overreacting.
Or was it?
Could he ever keep Becky safe?
This snippet also hints at plot and Sam’s character. Also, through light and shadow, I hope to show and (excuse the pun) foreshadow that Becky inhabits two worlds, hearing and deaf.
In The Cowboy’s Little Surprise, Cole returns to Cowboy Creek after years away and discovers the local hotel has been through a few changes. This is actually a more descriptive passage than I normally write, but I’m attempting to give the reader something to “see” through a contrast and to build tension into the ending of a scene:
Jed beamed. “We try to keep the place up.”
“You’ve done a good job of it.”
Years of polishing had buffed the hotel’s registration desk to a high sheen. The brass foot rail encircling it gleamed. Even the knotty-pine walls and flooring of the reception area gave off a soft glow, as if the candles in the wrought-iron holders on the wall had been set to flame.
In the sitting room off to one side of the entry, the same heavy, low-slung couches and chairs sported the same handmade afghans, and the chime clock on the wall still ticked the seconds away like a slow, steady heartbeat.
Or maybe that was his own heart, thumping so hard he could hear it.
No, the Hitching Post hadn’t changed. Neither had the old man in front of him. But he himself sure had, and the time had come for him to prove it.
And for the final example, again from The Cowboy’s Little Surprise, when Tina first meets up with Cole after the space of several years, this is what the reader sees:
In one startled, reflexive sweep, she took in almost everything about him. The light brown hair showing beneath the brim of his battered hat. The firm mouth and jaw. Broad shoulders. Narrow hips. The well-worn jeans, silver belt buckle, and scuffed boots.
Using those “clues,” the reader should pick up from his clothing that Cole is a cowboy; from the condition of his hat, jeans, and boots that he’s a hard-working cowboy; and from the silver buckle on his belt that there’s a chance he has spent some time on the rodeo circuit. Not only does this give the reader a more complete picture of Cole, it ties both characters to the ranch setting.
There are, of course, many ways to layer setting and description into your stories. I hope this has given you a few new ideas.
Speaking of giving… ;) I’m offering an autographed copy of The Texan’s Little Secret to three people who comment on the blog (US mailing addresses only, please). To enter the drawing, tell us your all-time favorite setting, real or fictional. One of the villagers here at Seekerville will draw and announce the winners’ names.
And now, Seekers, let’s chat about setting!
Barbara White Daille lives with her husband in the sunny Southwest. Though they love the warm winters and the lizards in their front yard, they haven’t gotten used to the scorpions in the bathroom.
Barbara’s thrilled to share news about the debut of a brand-new series, The Hitching Post Hotel, about a matchmaking grandpa determined to see his three granddaughters wed. The series begins in April 2015 with The Cowboy’s Little Surprise, followed by A Rancher of Her Own in July and a third as-yet-untitled book in December.
You can find more info about Barbara and her books at the following locations:
The Cowboy’s Little Surprise – Barbara White Daille – April 2015
THE LONG WAY HOME
A guy like Cole Slater is hard to forget. Tina Sanchez should know—for years since high school she's tried to bury the pain of Cole's cruel betrayal. But it's impossible to ignore the man she sees reflected in her young son's eyes now that Cole is back in her life—and about to meet the child he never knew he had.
Returning home to New Mexico, Cole is determined to put his playboy reputation to rest. Especially now that he knows there's a little boy looking up to him. And seeing Tina again reignites all the feelings Cole ran from as a teen. Despite his fear that he can't be the man Tina deserves, he's determined to try. For his son's sake—and his own.
Find The Cowboy’s Little Surprise at: