And... a question

In previous posts we've talked about setting in dystopian novels. We've discussed how it can be as important as one of the characters, and how it shows you what the new world is like. It can be the same as it is now, an arid wasteland, an environmental horror, a state-of-the-art technological wonder, a space ship, a different planet or some combination of all of these.

Some writers dole out descriptions of setting in bits and pieces, brief glimpses through a character's interaction with the setting. It's up to the reader to decide what this place really is like. Other writers devote a paragraph every so often with detailed description of setting, leaving little room for the reader's own imagination. Often the story itself dictates how setting should be presented.

My question - Do you have a preference? Would you rather imagine a portion of the setting or have it spelled out?

Just curious...

19 comments:

Jonathon Arntson said...

It depends. Occasionally, the landscape is a character itself and in those instances, we need to know a lot more because the author would be building its personality. But in most cases, it's just another setting and a few simple descriptions will set a barren seaside cliff apart from the Penzance of today.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I find I'm more apt to read description if its at the beginning of a story. When I really get 'into' the book, I overlook it in search of the story so small sentences or action that involves the setting registers more than full paragraphs of description.

B.E. Sanderson said...

It depends on the story and the scene. I love a good setting description, but sometimes it feels like the writer thought 'hey I need more description - I'll stick it here'. Like everything, it has to fit with the story or it shouldn't be in there.

Andrea said...

I find that sometimes you need a section of description for an unusual setting, especially if the characters are interacting with the setting at all. But mostly I prefer to let my image of the setting develop from the bits and pieces the writer provides.

lynnrush said...

I'd rather imagine some of it. Every little details slows me down and I usually end up skimming. Just give me the big details up front, then sprinkle in the little bits and let my imagination take over. . . . .

Amie McCracken said...

Yes...to what everyone here said. All of it. Depends on whether the story needs it, at all or at that moment, if I need to be told what the setting looks like then tell me.

Lisa K. said...

Personally, I like to be immersed in the setting. That being said, I do believe that the story itself should dictate how much of the setting is laid out for the reader and how much is left to the imagination.

Lisa_Gibson said...

I think deftly weaving little details in, here and there and letting my imagination do some of the work for me is the approach I most respond to.

aimeestates said...

I like both. Potter's world was pretty well laid out, but I've read other books that allowed me to set the surrounding, and I like that as well.

Becky Levine said...

I do have a preference, but I don't know if it has to do with me filling in the spaces or with just not liking to be overwhelmed by setting. I want a SENSE of the world--I want fun details that show me how it differs from the world I know and I want to see the characters interacting with those details--in a way that shows me their familiarity with it, which sort of sets out how different is all is than what I know.

I'm reading a lot of historical fiction these days & I think historical "setting" is comparable to world-building/setting in something like dystopian. We need to understand the world, feel it, but move through it with the story, not get stopped by it.

Rebecca said...

I would much rather have a portion of the setting left to my own imagination. Tell me just enough for me to form my own picture.

cassandrajade said...

It really depends on the story but if I'm reading the third paragraph in row that is doing nothing but telling me what the trees look like I'm probably going to start skipping forward to where something actually happens.

Tere Kirkland said...

I guess for me it depends on how different the setting is from our world, and what parts of the setting will matter in my story. I usually shy away from writing huge chunks of description, filling in the blanks when it makes sense to do so, or when a character interacts with the setting.

In the same vein, I find myself skimming through long chunks of description if I'm reading.

Julia Karr said...

Great thoughts, everyone! I'm on the give just enough to intrigue & make clear, don't spell it all out!

And, Becky, I had not thought about relating future-world building to historical world building - good thought!

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting!

Riv Re said...

I prefer when the author tells you most of the setting, leaving little to your thoughts. When I think it up myself, sometimes the author will throw something in later that changes my whole perspective.
On a miniature scale, if two characters are sitting side-by-side, and I'll, for example, imagine a character to the left of the MC, and then the MC will turn to the right to speak to the side character. It means I have to flip my mental image. This is of course, a random example.

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't like a lot of description in any form. I prefer to let my mind create it all from interesting snippets.

Julia Karr said...

So interesting to hear everyone's thoughts on this. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

Myrna Foster said...

I don't like tons of description, but it depends on the book. Some authors make it worth my while to read their descriptions.

doctorcrankenstein said...

It depends upon the book.

I'm currently reading Sheri S Tepper's A Plague of Angels, a Brilliant mix of fantasy and sci-fi (I know, it sounds weird but it works!) in a post apocalyptic world. In The story there is a mystical 'place of power'. She hasn't said so yet but if you read between the lines you can work out that it is a fusion power plant from before the fall. There are also the bad-guy minions called walkers that are some kind of robot/cyborg. Again she hasn't say what they are but she is constantly dropping hints...

In a way it makes sense. The people in the story have 'devolved' so how are they going to know what a robot/cyborg or a fusion power plant is? They don't have the words to express what they are seeing in their vocabulary.

I think it's much better this way, It makes more sense and the writing is much more colourful and descriptive. I'm really enjoying this book!