To Context or Not To Context?

image lifted from: http://astrofuturetrends.blogspot.com/2007/08/hamlet.html

image lifted from: http://astrofuturetrends.blogspot.com/2007/08/hamlet.html

That is the question. In an attempt to get two cents from every wayward soul that might venture this way  and also to stimulate my comments section I wish to pose that very question.

Do you sometimes find that if you’re told when and where a scene takes place it’s too much context? More to the point, if, before a scene you are told “Hey, you, this is London and its 1640, do you feel bludgeoned? Would you much rather have clues peppered throughout the text about the setting? Inversely, if you’re reading and there are no concrete mentions of setting changes when it does change do you feel lost?

I’m currently scripting something – scary, yes, I know – and I’m struggling heavily with this. I feel, in my infernal bowels that impact of the setting is lost when the reader is specifically told it has changed. The other part of me realizes how many setting changes (both in location and time) I’m throwing at the reader in rapid succession, and confusion is likely, should a reader not pay much attention. Then, of course, there’s the part of me that couldn’t care less. I want to confuse them. I want them to get lost, to get angry, and then, hopefully, be unable to turn away.

3 thoughts on “To Context or Not To Context?

  1. Tease it out. Weave the setting into the narrative.

    In most fiction, there tends to be an info dump at the beginning of a scene, either the paltry (“London, 1640″), or the purple (“Thunder shook the fearsome, ever-staring face of the towering giant, stoic in its stony demeanor. Rain rippled down its immaculate features, collecting at the perfectly curved chin before streaming below. The Watchman flinched, flicking a brow to the left, and clucked a solitary time, the din drowning the steady burbling of pothole puddles and leather scraping stone in the hasty hustle of false midnight.”) Either way, you’re not really doing the reader any favors.

    Too little info, and there’s no grounding for the characters. They’re in a void, against a white/black/green screen, speaking and acting in a theater of pure, untethered imagination — the reader’s imagination. Did you intend for everyone to be wearing galoshes and sweatpants in 1640 London during a heatwave with a violet sky? No? Well, why didn’t you say so!

    Too much information, especially all at once at the beginning of a piece, and it’s a slog. “When’s this gonna get good? Where are the characters? Why is there so much set up? What’s the payoff going to be? Is every piece of foliage a Chekov’s gun? What matters here?”

    Let’s face it: the average reader probably isn’t going to pour over a huge chunk of narration, no matter how well worded and poetic (as your stuff always is); no, s/he’s gonna scan ahead for dialogue and maybe action verbs. Blame television. Blame movies. Blame Bush. Blame one too many overly lengthy setting descriptions in fiction.

    So, pepper it out. Immerse your characters — and your readers — in the universe, little by little. Tease it out. Sprinkle in pertinent details.

    Which is, of course, easier said than done.

    kink

    ReplyReply
  2. Caleb Kinkaid :
    Tease it out. Weave the setting into the narrative.
    In most fiction, there tends to be an info dump at the beginning of a scene, either the paltry (”London, 1640″), or the purple (”Thunder shook the fearsome, ever-staring face of the towering giant, stoic in its stony demeanor. Rain rippled down its immaculate features, collecting at the perfectly curved chin before streaming below. The Watchman flinched, flicking a brow to the left, and clucked a solitary time, the din drowning the steady burbling of pothole puddles and leather scraping stone in the hasty hustle of false midnight.”) Either way, you’re not really doing the reader any favors.
    Too little info, and there’s no grounding for the characters. They’re in a void, against a white/black/green screen, speaking and acting in a theater of pure, untethered imagination — the reader’s imagination. Did you intend for everyone to be wearing galoshes and sweatpants in 1640 London during a heatwave with a violet sky? No? Well, why didn’t you say so!
    Too much information, especially all at once at the beginning of a piece, and it’s a slog. “When’s this gonna get good? Where are the characters? Why is there so much set up? What’s the payoff going to be? Is every piece of foliage a Chekov’s gun? What matters here?”
    Let’s face it: the average reader probably isn’t going to pour over a huge chunk of narration, no matter how well worded and poetic (as your stuff always is); no, s/he’s gonna scan ahead for dialogue and maybe action verbs. Blame television. Blame movies. Blame Bush. Blame one too many overly lengthy setting descriptions in fiction.
    So, pepper it out. Immerse your characters — and your readers — in the universe, little by little. Tease it out. Sprinkle in pertinent details.
    Which is, of course, easier said than done.
    kink

    Sadly, I tend to be purple. It’s not that I intend to bludgeon necessarily, but, as you may know, I just find human characters far less interesting than the world they inhabit. The project I’m on now starts quite a bit like that, a huge narrative about the moon and all, but I think later in the scene set-up I’ve corrected that a bit as I’m getting self conscious about it all.

    Anyway, thanks.

    ReplyReply
  3. I get unnerved without a setting and I tend to find myself naturally drawn towards stories with big involving histories and details about the world they’re set in – in the first instance I blame Orwell, in the second I blame you.

    However, that isn’t to say a Carrollian set up doesn’t work, it’s just often I find myself not as convinced by this. The information doesn’t come all at once, I can live with that, but walking away from a story and not really knowing the dynamic of the world it was set in or the rules leaves me thinking that these characters could have been anyone in any place – all of which is great for fellow writers to reinterpret according to mythic themes but it’s actually really shit if you’re a reader…

    …IMHO.

    ReplyReply

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