I’ve been reading a lot of books lately with an eye to scene and setting. As a writer, that’s a hard balance to achieve, as a reader, well, badly done details can create sonic booms as the book hits the wall.
Christopher Booker, yes, the Booker of the Booker Prize, opined there were only seven basic plots and from these plots, all stories are written. I suggest the list narrows if you’re a genre writer. So, how do you set your take apart from others? Easy, and hard, it’s in the details.
I write two series, one set in the Florida Keys, and the other in Miami. Tropical South Florida. Cool…but how do I differentiate my murder mysteries from any of zillion others set in Kansas or Katmandu, or even from each other? Details! All murder mysteries have a villain, a victim, and a sleuth. Mine operate in steamy subtropical of Florida. I have to bring the reader into the setting, but not beat them over the head with the heat!
I like to do it by making setting a character on its own. The Florida Keys, known for reefs and wrecks, conch, and tropical fish. Days of endless sun and unforgiving storms, Hemmingway, fishing and Jimmy Buffet. Miami, once known for cocaine cowboys and Miami Vice, now known for Latin American investors, a burgeoning economy, drugs (some things never change), the Cuban influence, and a place where you can reinvent yourself. These elements set my stories apart from other mysteries and from each other. The question and the problem become how to convey each setting naturally.
The writer doesn’t want to start every scene with a weather report, or a restatement of the obvious, so how to texture a story to bring the reader into the setting and scene without stating the obvious? Detail! Hayden may finish off a meal with Key Lime Pie, or order yellowtail snapper for her main course. She dives for Florida lobster, a/k/a crawfish, and she complains about the tourists and shares her view of how to spot them (shorts and socks with sandals in the middle of a Keys winter). The diamond reflection of the sun on the water tells the reader that Hayden is in a dive boat. The wrecks and the reefs add authenticity to her story.
Catherine is in a more difficult situation. Miami has become a metropolitan city. It’s as close to New York as it is to the South. How then do details work in her story? She orders café con leche, or a cafecito from a storefront window. Her dinner of choice might include ropa veija and her friends are an international mix of Cuban, American, and Haitian. Like all Floridians, Catherine complains about the traffic and the drivers. Her city is a mix of extremely wealthy and poor. Very little middle class. She pays tribute to the farms in the Redlands and the homes on Star Island. Catherine is cosmopolitan, with a little bit of country.
In writing, and in life, it’s all in the details.
Readers what are your favorite details and how do they set the scene?
Writers, how do you infuse details into your stories?
Keys Water by stingrea1; Key Lime Pie by rj_sinder; Hurricane Dennis by 12019; Lifeguard station by Zopalic courtesy of Pixabay
Cafe Azucar by Infrogmation of New Orleans courtesy of Creative Commons