Thursday, June 11, 2009

Focusing on what's Important

I have a very simple way of deciding how best to set the physical scene - if it's important enough for the character to notice, it's important enough to tell the reader about. If it's not important enough for them to notice, then it's hard to mention it from that character's point of view without making the words sound false and unrealistic.

The only problem with that way of writing is that some of my characters are often pretty oblivious to the big things that go on around them. They notice weird little details instead. Like Luke in You First:

Desperately trying to concentrate on anything other than Justin’s erection pounding into him, Luke scrambled for any other details and senses to focus on.

The cotton sheet underneath him was pale blue. At this angle, with his nose barely an inch from the surface, Luke saw it was actually two shades of thread blended together. He couldn’t bring himself to care. His prostate sang inside him, coaxing him to join in with it in harmony, groaning his pleasure at every inch of delicious friction.

The thing is, Luke is in his own bedroom at this point - he doesn't walk into the room and think - Oh, the walls are painted blue. People don't do that in places they go to every day. Luke's only going to notice something he has good reason to notice.

Most characters only notice things that are different to usual, or that they have particularly strong feelings about. Like Charles in The Gift:

As the door closed behind Nicky, Charles dropped his head back against the high chair back and stared up at the brightly coloured decorations festooning the ceiling. His pet had outdone himself this year. Everything that didn’t run away fast enough was wrapped in tinsel and sparkles.

He closed his eyes against the garish display of Christmas cheer.

Although he’d never been present for his pet’s final Christmas Eve tradition—the packing of the last present right before he went to bed—Charles could well imagine him kneeling on the floor in their bedroom, biting his bottom lip, concentrating on getting the brightly coloured paper just right. It was a far better sight to rest his eyes upon than yard upon yard of garlands criss-crossing the ceiling.

The room isn't important to him right then. In a very real way, he's only seeing the decorations.

One good thing about the character going somewhere new is that it gives you the chance to give the reader an over all impression when the character assesses his new surroundings. Alistair gets that sort of chance in Secret Service:

It was pretty much what he expected for a hotel that claimed to offer everything a dominant client could need for the night. It was half bedroom and half dungeon play room.

His boyfriend just stood there, looking around the room. His eyes flickered one way and another, from the St Andrew’s cross, to the cage in the corner, to the opulent bed, decked out so it looked fit for a king—or fit for a dominant who needed that sort of prop to appear majestic in the eyes of a submissive.

Alistair cast a look over the room too. Not to his taste, but neither was this stupid situation. Just because the dominant inside him was howling its pleasure at finally being allowed to play with Sheridan, that didn’t mean it was right.

Initial assessments of spaces can be fun to write - especially if they give you a chance to bring out the character's personality quirks. In Turquoise and Leather, Eric goes back to Georges apartment for the first time. His first actions on walking into a new space tell George a lot - and maybe the tell the reader what kind of man he is too.

“You said I have three kinks. What’s the third?”

George relaxed. His reading of Eric’s submission was correct. He was there for the night.

“What was the first thing you did when you walked in here?”

Eric frowned and looked out over the city. “Admired the view? It’s impressive, but I wouldn’t call it fetish worthy.”

“What else?” George pushed. Did Eric even notice?

The frown deepened, Eric thought for a few more seconds. “Glanced around your apartment? I know there’s a cliché to live up to, but if you think I know who designed what, you’ve got the wrong guy. I can tell you the fire surround is slate, the bathroom floor is marble and the counter top over there is granite, but that’s it.” He pointed to the various examples of geology as he enumerated them.

George shook his head. “The first thing you did.”

George is on home ground in this scene. But is it the home court advantage that's causing him to lead and Eric to follow. Come to that - is Eric really the type to be fazed by a pent house apartment?

How a person feels in a new space can tell you a lot about them. In Silent Night, Vincent has just moved into a new house. It's his space, but it's still new to him:

He opened the door to the master bedroom. The house still didn’t feel like his home, but it was time to make it feel like his domain.

Inside the bedroom, the important things were already unpacked. There was his bed, the one it took the moving men three hours to get up the stairs. Vincent had to admit it was something of a monstrosity. It was a bugger to find a bedroom it would even fit in.

It practically went without saying a brass bed frame should look old fashioned and homely, but when the metal writhed and twisted at each end, sinuously curling around itself in a way which made everyone who saw it want to reach out and stroke, it became something altogether more interesting.

The frame was a work of art. It had also proved itself to be an amazingly versatile piece of kit, for a man who enjoyed tying his lovers up.

Along with the bed, Vincent had found time to unpack crisp dark red sheets and his toy box. He might not know where in the dozens of boxes littering his kitchen the tin opener was, but he could put his hands on a pair of handcuffs at a moment’s notice. A man had to stick to his priorities.

Vincent looked across at Hannah.

"I’m going to tie you up."

Flicking through my stories, I'm quite surprised by how much scene setting some of them include. I thought I would struggle to find even a single snippet to share with everyone! (That said - there are books that aren't quoted from because I really couldn't find anything appropriate, lol.)

For me, it will always be more important to set the emotional scene - to set the characters up so they are able to find their happy ever after with the man or woman they are introduced to during the book. Setting the emotional scene comes first. What colour the wall paper is, that's more hit and miss. If the character doesn't care, I don't expect the reader to either.


And now I suppose I should move on to the other half of my post. I should let everyone know that this will be my last post on this blog.

I sent my first submission to Total-e-bound on June 14th last year. In the last twelve months I've had 17 titles accepted. It's been fantastic, if a little bit insane.

But all that has unfortunately led to a flare up of an old medical condition and I'm having to cut back on various commitments. Since I would much prefer not to have to cut back on writing, I've reached the decision that I should try to cut back on other things - blogging is one of those things.

This week I'm stepping down from both Oh, Get a Grip! and Writer's Evolution, which I was contributing to every Tuesday.

I'm keeping going with my own blog here. So if you want to keep up to date with what's going on in my world, you're more than welcome to join me there.

It's been great getting to know the other writers in this blog. As of next month, there will be a new face joining the crew - Ashley Lister will be taking over the Thursday slot. I'm sure he will fit in perfectly.

And that's it from me.

Take care everyone. It's been fun :)

Kim Dare.
Kink, love and a happy ending. Do you Dare?


  1. Hi, Kim,

    We'll really be sorry to see you go. I'm sure we'll see you back here as a guest!

    With 17 pubs in twelve months, I'm not surprised that you are exhausted.

    Oh, and I want that bed you described!!!

    Best of luck to you! We'll miss you.


  2. Hi Kim,

    These lines: How a person feels in a new space can tell you a lot about them. In Silent Night, Vincent has just moved into a new house. It's his space, but it's still new to him:

    made so much sense. I think as romance or erotica writers, we're trying to connect with how our characters write much more than where they are. How we explain a setting gives substance to both the character and what's going on with them.

    Great post lady! And now, on to your second bit. It has been great working with you here on the Grip and you'll be missed. I wish you all the very best in your future work as well as in your private life. And, I hope you'll drop in when you can and say hey.


  3. Kim,

    Best of luck with the writing and with your health issues. We will miss you!


  4. Kim,

    First part of the article - Isn't it amazing what you discover about your own writing when going back through it? You had a nice bit of setting detail in each scene, and I liked what you mentioned about how characters only see what's important to them. That's true of real people too. We rarely notice the everyday details unless something changes.

    Second part of your post - I'm sorry to see you go! I've enjoyed reading your articles. Good luck with all those contracts and be sure to take care of yourself. Maybe you should rest up in a really nice, ornate brass bed...