Setting the Scene: Location
Last week we discussed establishing character point of view at the onset of a new scene or chapter. (Click here to read this post.) This week we are going to talk about establishing location. When I say location I’m not necessarily referring to the geographic element such as where in the world, but your reader needs to be able to picture your characters somewhere. If you fail to provide location your characters might as well be acting out in front of a green screen--it’s the same equivalence. You would be leaving it up to your reader to place your characters. Needless to say this will likely make them confused and ultimately close your book which is the last thing you want.
This element of setting a scene can be a tricky one as it’s not always necessary to point out in an obvious way where it’s taking place. It’s quite possible the scene is a continuation of an earlier one and your reader already has a vision of the surroundings. However, it’s up to you as the author to make sure that imagery remains sharp while not duplicating description. How can you accomplish that?
Toss in small observations that solidify them back into the scene. For example, your characters are at a restaurant. In the first scene you established this. You probably described what it looked like, the type of food they serve and more. It’s not necessary to rehash all of this information again. However, you leave this scene to skip to another one going on in your book and come back to the restaurant. By the characters the readers will know where they are (assuming you left a hook that didn’t close the scene). When you come back to them, maybe have their actions of eating or drinking, the waiting staff checking in on them, observations of other patrons. You get the idea.
Another question that comes up periodically is where do you establish the location of your scene--right away or a few paragraphs in? This is up to you and the way you’ve set up the scene. Maybe it’s more suspenseful to hold back the location for a while, or more gripping to set things up right away. Do what is more effective for the scene.
Remember, too, with location it’s not necessary to list details off. Only include necessary details. Also be sure to include the five senses in your painting of a scene. (I covered this topic in more detail in the post Lead Your Reader's Imagination and there's more coming up next week.) In the example of a restaurant above, what does it smell like, do the aromas make your character’s stomach tighten with hunger, what is the texture of their pasta entree--if this amount of detail is applicable to your character. Surely a chef would notice whether their meal was cooked properly.
In summary, only you can decide what details are required to establish location in a scene. Be true to your story and genre and go with what works best in each scenario.