Laying out the Table

When I stop to consider my favorite scenes and descriptive passages, I just stop.  Seriously.  “Setting the scene” has always been a difficulty in my writing, because I quite hate reading descriptions.  I like plot and character and telling detail as much as the next reader/writer, but description-skipping is one of my best strategies for consuming my preferred book a day diet. Alas, I now achieve that diet only in the summer and on vacation.  Ah well.

The best metaphor I can think of for scene setting is Setting the table for dinner guests.  Some people like linen napkins, red silk tablecloths, magisterial dowager chairs on the table ends, baroque flatwafloe bowers of centerpieces. I am not into that. I prefer simple cotton napkins, maybe some placemats, whatever unmatched silverware is in the drawer. But my focus is on the food, the herbed turkey and cinnamon crusted sweet potatoes, creamed corn, apple spice cake goodness.  I don’t want dirty place settings, or inadequate serving dishes. I want my guests to forget all about the place settings in their rapture of tasteful delights. So my goal is that description and scene setting not interfere with the content of the story.

Readers have offered me very inconsistent accounts of my success in this aim. Often, my creative writing teachers mentioned my descriptive passages as the strongest part of my story.  But another reader commented that my novel felt like I was watching the movie in my head and only sharing glimpses with my audience, enough to assure them that I could see the whole scene, but not enough to take them along with me.  Looks like I need to retrieve some new serving spoons–the ones I have been using can’t quite handle the gravy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.