Setting the Scene

If you want advice about writing fiction, the internet is the place to be. Free advice, cheap advice, reasonable advice, expensive advice, worthless advice - it's all there. Believe me, I've scanned bucket loads of it over the years. Most of it is offered by people who don't actually write all that much beyond the advice they give to others about writing. Once I figured that out it became much easier to ignore nearly all of it. Of course people write fiction for a variety of reasons, and my sense is that most of the advice out there is directed at those seeking commercial success. I write because it's fun. That wasn't always the case; for years I felt a weird compulsion to write and I sought advice on how to go about responding to that compulsion. The results were dark, introspective, opaque, and highly personal. A number of years ago, primarily at my wife's urging, I got over the compulsion and began to write for fun, a much healthier endeavor. In my view, the results are much more entertaining, and overall more enjoyable. The results are lively stories rather than brooding catharsis burying what might otherwise be an interesting narrative.

One of the writing tasks I face time and again in the Nick Temple Files is setting the physical scene efficiently yet effectively. I think I'm getting better at it without the assistance of any on-line expert advice. As I look back over Silent Vector I'm generally satisfied with my efforts in that regard. The following is a sample from Chapter 2 of Silent Vector that establishes the scene about as efficiently as it can be established:

"The courier sweats beneath the midday Kenyan sun. The heat and his nerves are a brutal combination that is taking its toll on the courier’s emotional well-being. The large umbrellas covering the tables of the small sidewalk café do nothing more than trap the equatorial heat."

Things about are about to go from bad to worse for our sweating courier (you'll have to read the book to see what I mean), but there can be little doubt that at the moment captured above, the guy's suffering big time. He's a bundle of nerves, he's hot, and there's no hope for immediate relief - it's noon, all the café umbrellas are doing is trapping the heat, and it can't be any better in the direct sunlight - and there's no long-term hope for relief - he's on the equator for Pete's sake. One of the last words in the paragraph, the word "trap," sums up what the courier must be feeling so it does double duty in that sense. The paragraph started out larger and sloppier, but in its final version, again in my admittedly biased view, it achieves what I was hoping for quite economically.

So my advice, to add to the mountain already out there, is to reflect on why you write. If you're writing to achieve commercial success, by all means seek out the advice of those opining on that subject. However, try writing for fun, for your own fun. The results might surprise you