Thursday, May 12th, 2011

A Goose on a Foggy Pond: Using Real-Life Settings in Fiction

Lone Goose on a Foggy Pond
Not the pond I talk about below.

It was 54 degrees outside when I left my house this morning: a 30-degree drop in temperature from the afternoon before. There was a bit of a chill in the air, and condensation covered a large expanse of the outdoors.

As I wound my way down the narrow, hilly, and curvy road, I kept my eye out for a view of the pond located at the edge of a nearby farmer’s property.

At 5:30 a.m., I often see wildlife making use of the pond, and today I was looking forward to what I might find.

Brought on by the cool morning, a thin layer of fog hovered over the slowly cooling pond. A single goose swam in the water, partially hidden in the rising tendrils of fog.

Fabulous.

And great fodder for detail in my working — and future — novels.

I thought about this single goose all the way to work, and when I arrived, I jotted down a few of the more striking details:

– cool morning
– condensation on nearly everything outside
– wispy fog over the pond
– details of the pond lost in the fog
– a single goose
– very quiet
– sun hadn’t risen yet

The beauty of a scene like this is that the detail can be used over and over again in different stories and novels, and never has to be used the same way twice. It doesn’t even have to be used as it is!

For instance, why a goose? Why not a deer, if your story takes place in a wooded glade; or a bobcat, if the story takes place in a desert setting?

The same fog could rise in the evening after a warm day.

Perhaps the sun has risen in your story.

(And, by changing details among the details, you’ve not only grown the body of items you can choose from, you increase the possibilities of stories you could write.)

The key to using detail — especially striking detail — is not to overload the reader. Pick only one or two items that stand out, and save the others for another time.

This approach offers three advantages:

  1. using fewer details allows the reader to imagine the rest of the scene, giving them some “ownership” of the story, allowing them to be absorbed, rather than dictated to.
     
  2. it leaves you with several more details to mix and match in other stories you may write in the future, without suggesting to your astute readers that you’re taking shortcuts by writing the same thing over and over.
     
  3. the remaining details might be used as story-starters — rather than just scenes or details – for future works.

How have you used real-life incidents or settings in your stories? How do you note them or keep track of them? Do you find yourself using those details in multiple stories?

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