iv) DESCRIPTION INTERLEAVED
If setting moves into the foreground—as often in fantasy, where exotic buildings or natural marvels amaze the reader along with the characters—then it’s natural to give a whole long block of description. The description is interesting in its own right. But when setting is background, I like to spread it through the action and dialogue—a sentence here, a couple of sentences there, rarely more than a short paragraph at a time.
This keeps the story flowing along and also makes for more evocative description, I think. Brief images and momentary impressions are more vivid than long connected passages. Dust on a table … the delicacy of a gilt-rimmed porcelain cup … a reflection in a puddle—such quick brushstrokes flash unexpected pictures into the reader’s mind.
So then you have to find ways of working these snippets of description into the action.
- Dust on the table—when someone leans their elbows on it.
- The gilt-rimmed cup—when someone puts it down with a chink!
- The reflection in a puddle—when someone warns, ‘Watch where you step.’
Smooth interleaving of setting and action—that’s the goal.
Generally, you’d aim to introduce the larger impressions of setting first, the tiny close-up details later.