3 Steps to Write Story Setting into the Action

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days at the end of the post.

We want our readers to picture the scene around them, but we don’t want to bore them with lengthy descriptions. Here are three easy steps to portray the setting in action.

Step 1

Have your point-of-view character take out her imaginary video camera and heft it to her eye. She must make sure the sound is on. 

Example: Marooned on an island, Reba takes out her video camera, which miraculously still works, and turns it on.

Step 2

Direct your character to slowly pivot around and look and listen for interesting or necessary things in her surroundings. You might even write a description of the scene’s setting.

Example: As Reba heads into the tropical forest she turns and looks back with her camera. She sees Paul, a fallen palm trunk, the beach with a white sand shore and rolling aqua waves. The waves crash and form a froth. As she enters the tropical forest her camera spots palms, yuccas, vines and other unidentified brush and trees. She exits the forest at a waterfall. Her camera picks up the fall’s crashing water that sends out sprays of cold water. She turns to the right and sees papaya and banana trees in clumps rising from a blanket of green grass. Bees buzz around them, and leaves flutter in the gentle breeze, making brushing sounds. To her left, Reba’s camera catches a wild thicket of tall grass.

Step 3

Now rewrite the description into the scene through the point-of view character’s actions and reactions, using the most interesting and necessary things the character saw in the camera. Take into consideration the scene’s pace as to how much camera sightings you include. Get creative.

Example:

Reba left Paul on the beach perched on a fallen palm trunk, aqua waves pounding the shore and turning into froth behind him. He fashioned a spearhead with shell shards and parts of coconuts. She turned to see if he’d follow her, but he didn’t look up. 

If only she knew the guy better. Didn’t he know they needed to learn whether the island was occupied? Apparently not. His lame spearhead was his macho reaction to first things to do. Self-protection. She plowed through hot white sand to the tropical forest beyond the beach, grumbling.

Reba pushed aside young palm tree’s leaves, circumvented yuccas, and ducked under drooping vines hanging from unidentified trees with massive roots. Rushing water became louder as she fought her way through the tropical jungle. Her heart beats quickened. Would a friendly tribe live in a village surrounding a waterfall? Or a mob of natives that had a craving for human flesh? 

She stepped through the last of the jungle. Water flooded over a cliff into a pool surrounded by exotic flowers. Awesome. Reba jogged to a wild orchard at the right of the fall. She snapped a banana from one tree and tugged a papaya loose from another. Wouldn’t Paul be surprised.

Whistling. Speak of the dev— Reba whipped around to the rustling tall thicket of grass opposite the orchard. A wild boar. Charging her. She froze. Paul leaped in front of her, and thrust his spear. The tusked black boar dropped to the ground. 

Hopefully, you picture the setting without paragraphs describing the scene.

What book do you think did a great job of giving the setting and why?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor


Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

Does Your Scene’s Pace Match Its Mood?

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.


Possible Scene Moods

  • sorrowful
  • lazy (might come as a break after a particularly harsh scene)
  • fearful
  • humorous (could be part of a light genre or provide a rest after a scary scene)
  • suspenseful

For pace, focus on:

  • actions
  • sentence length (whether fast- or slow-paced, mix in some short and long sentences)
  • words

Let’s look at two examples.

Examples

A man joins a dinner party.

Sorrowful

image by derGestalter

Edmund trailed other hushed mourners into Chad’s dining room. At one end of the table, he dragged a heavy chair out, leaving shallow ruts in the carpet. He sank to the seat, and his head drooped forward until his chin rested on his chest. How long would river rocks weigh down his heart? He stared at the black napkin rolled and trapped in a black plastic ring next to his china plate. Someone at the far end of the table chuckled. Edmund floated his gaze upward to see what kind of person was amused in the dismalness of Margo’s death. 

Analysis: The pace is slow.

Actions are slow, drawn out, or heavy: trailed, dragged, sank, drooped, rested, weight, stared, trapped, floated 

Sentence lengths are nine words or longer—100%. Fifteen prepositional phrases.

Words speak of quietness and sadness: hushed, mourners, heavy, ruts, down, black, dismalness, death. Even chuckled is a quiet laugh, and been amused is low-key compared to experienced laughter.

Suspenseful

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

Edmund led suspects into Chad’s dining room. Midtable, he hauled back a chair and sat. One by one, he scrutinized six anxious guests. Blondie twitched. Mr. Mustache shook. All looked away. Edmond snorted, stabbed his bloody beef medallion, and crammed it into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and glugged his red wine. Someone heaved a derogatory sigh. Edmund shot to his feet and strode to the culprit. Captain Round Glasses blanched. Edmund grabbed his jacket and hoisted him off his chair. “You’ll sizzle first on my grill for Margo’s death.”

Analysis: The pace moves the story forward.

Actions are fast, decisive, or harsh: led, hauled, twitched, shook, snorted, stabbed, crammed, chewed, swallowed, glugged, shot, strode, grabbed, hoisted. 

Sentence lengths are short—only four are nine words or longer—36%. Only five prepositional phrases.

Words pound out accusation, fear, obnoxiousness, and roughness: suspects, scrutinized, anxious, bloody, derogatory, culprit, blanched, sizzle, grill, death. 

What paragraph would you write for a lazy or humorous passage?


Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author.


How to Find the Amazing Word for That Thingy, Modifier, or Action

Flip Dictionary takes you from a “meaning” you are aware of to the “word” you need.” —Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.

 

image by ClkeFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

In a scene, my character senses a reverent atmosphere, but I didn’t want to use atmosphere. I couldn’t summon the word I wanted. Microsoft Word’s thesaurus offered ambiance, feeling, mood, and others. I knew a better word was available but my brain couldn’t capture it.

I looked up atmosphere in Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aura. That was it!

Under the word atmosphere, Kipfer listed 16 words for different kinds of atmosphere. For example: “atmosphere of special power or mystery: mystique.”

So, today I want to plug Flip Dictionary. Let’s look at some other examples. 

Example 1

How about courage. The thesaurus supplied: bravery, nerve, pluck, valor, daring, audacity, mettle, resolution, and guts.

As Flip Dictionary does, it named all of the above from a thesaurus and then added: backbone, boldness, braveness, chin up, élan, fearlessness, firmness, fortitude, gallantry, gameness, grit, gumption, hardihood, heart, the heart of a lion, heroism, prowess, soul, spine, spunk, and tenacity.

Wow. What a wealth of words to choose from. Some have a different meaning from, but are in the scope of, courage.

image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

Suppose my character is a boy who grabs a runaway dog’s leash and persists in pulling the resistant canine away from a busy street. I might use a form of:        

  • Grit – “courage and resolve; strength of character”
  • Gumption – “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness”
  • Heroism – “great bravery”
  • Spunk – “courage and determination”
  • Tenacity – “the quality or fact of being determined; determination”

(definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary)

I like spunk. I don’t think I’d use it for a man. Maybe for a grandmother or a young woman. If my story is folksy, I might employ gumption.

The point is Flip Dictionary gives me words that go beyond synonyms. I like that.

Example 2

What’s the bar thingy that holds flags so they hang across a porch?

I looked up flag, and beneath it I found:

image by jill111
image by jill111

Flag hung on crosspiece, not pole: gonfalon”

gonfalon: “a banner or pennant, especially one with streamers, hung from a crossbar” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Gonfalon was also listed under banner in Flip Dictionary.

If you can look up a clue to the thingy escaping you, often you’ll find it in Flip Dictionary.

An amazing resource that gives me words that go beyond synonyms. Click to tweet.

If you use another resource or Flip Dictionary, would you tell us about how you use it?