Saturday, January 15, 2011
Get Out of the Kitchen: Using Setting to Help Build Your World
We’ve all heard it. Beware the dreaded kitchen table conversation scene. Do your best to avoid characters who sit around a table talking, usually rehashing plot or figuring out the next step of the plot. But what do we do with them once we chase them out of the kitchen?
One of the problems with setting is that it can get in the way of the story. It can be challenging to slip in all those details in the middle of whatever action is going on. But when you have a conversation that needs to take place and a boring locale for it, try picking one of those setting aspects you want to show off and move the conversation there. Not sure where to go? Ask yourself…
Is there a location that will enhance the theme of that conversation?
Look for thematic elements that can add layers to your conversation. For example, if your characters are worried about how they’re going to pay the rent and how their latest get-rich scheme failed, letting them discuss this as they’re walking through a poor neighborhood gives you opportunities to show the poverty-stricken world and reinforce what they have to lose if they can’t come up with the money.
Can the location illustrate one of the character’s states of mind?
If they’re happy, a park or beach might help reflect that. Or you could even use something traditionally dark and gloomy to contrast against their happiness. (and vice versa) Someone who is scared might see dangers all around them, and give you an opportunity to show the lurking troubles inherent in your world. You can also use that setting to reinforce the emotion you want the reader to feel.
Can the location foreshadow anything?
Seemingly meaningless details can be slipped in and planted in the reader’s mind. They’re just background noise now, but that seed will grow and when you reveal the big secret later, they’ll realize they should have known all along and it’ll feel more natural. The reader might be focused on the conversation, but the things the characters are passing or interacting with might carry a lot more hints to what’s really going on. (This is a personal favorite of mine)
Is there a location that can make your protagonist uncomfortable?
One of the troubles with kitchen table conversations is that they might be important information, but they seldom have the tension needed to carry the scene. But the setting can provide that tension and make things more difficult. What is the worst place for these characters to have this conversation?
Combing setting and kitchen table conversations can give you a much more interesting scene and an easier way to handle two often troublesome elements. You might even discover new ways to deepen your conflicts or cause friction between the characters having that conversation. Because where we are, definitely influences how we feel–and what we say.
Do you have any "kitchen" conversations? Where could you move them to?
Originally posted during the Blue Fire blog tour at Chandra Writes.