Setting – Too often ignored?

4 Oct

One of my beta’s criticisms that I will agree with is that I tend to not take the time to describe where my characters are. In general, I try to go for the feel as opposed to waxing poetic about what the blinds are made of unless it’s a plot point. I’ve said it before that I don’t consider novels to be a predominantly visual medium, as you and I can envision very different actors for the lead with the same description.

Some authors have the gift of visual story telling, but for me: I like books that make me think, so whether or not the dress is ruby red, cherry red I’ll worry about those details when I see it transcribe to screen. In general, I adore watching science fiction movies, because quite often they revel in their fantastic sets. Fantasy, at least to me, in general feels like traveling. I think one of the main advantages that urban fantasy has is that when I say I’m in present day Paris or New York, I don’t even have to name drop iconic buildings. The tone of my narrative voice can do a lot in terms of establishing whether we’re somewhere upscale or in the dredges, but for fantasy: you can have a lot of fun with sets that should be impossible. I’ve blogged about Shadow of the Colossus before, but for a game that doesn’t tell you much, the architecture certainly begs questions from the opening scene.

But films and video games are a much more visual medium than prose. Film can show quickly show montages in what would take me long boring sentences to describe. Unless it’s something related to the plot or the overall tone, I often find myself glassing it over. I’ll set up a corridor if I need it for a fight, but if not, it’s a long hallway lit by candles – let’s get on with the plot! I’ll fill in the details upon rewrites… until the publisher tells me to cut 5k. Let’s see… is the embroidery style on the tapestries really that important?

I think even very brief shots or details can establish an area and breathe life into the world.

Paul: Apostle of Christ details the last few days of Saul of Tarsus’ days, imprisoned and awaiting execution. The movie is set almost entire in Rome. The costumes were bang on, and I thought several of the acting performances were very powerful. We were mostly in a dirty dungeon and small homes in Rome as well as the city streets.

I’m not sure if this is the right word, but it felt claustrophobic. I enjoy my Sword and Sandal epics and, majestic icons like Rome have their slums and dirty places in spades. They also have grand spectacles and trademark buildings. If I hadn’t seen other movies and documentaries depicting the iconic city in that time period, or if we were in a town outside of Rome, I would have bought it. I hate saying this, because the sets were good. You go to a Roman home, it feels different than the places the Christians are hiding out. Would quick shots, that would no doubt be more expensive assuming they’re models or paintings for a quick shot, would they matter? We were up close and personal with those awaiting martyrdom, and I know what the Coloseum looks like.

Methinks Affirm films turn a profit, but they don’t have the budget Gladiator did.

So what are your thoughts on description of setting?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: