An Enjoyable Craft Book: Rayne Hall’s “Writing Vivid Settings”

I don’t know that I will make this a regular part of my blog, but I do want to take a moment to post a review I wrote for Rayne Hall’s Writing Vivid Settings that I received from her a couple of weeks back. I took it with me to my wife’s dentist visit and blazed through the entire thing in a single sitting. I’ve since gone back several times as I’ve worked at revising scenes written.

Description isn’t really something I have a problem with writing, other than my focus is sometimes not on the right things. I love rich description of settings when I read, so I try to emulate that when I write. With longer fiction, anyway. Shorter fiction doesn’t allow for as much prose as one would always like, but that’s the nature of the beast.

One of the areas where I lack is tickling all five senses. I’m good with visuals and good with noises, but sometimes texture, taste, and smell go by the wayside when I’m drafting. This particular book helped remind me of how important all the senses are, both for grounding the reader into the setting but also for building atmosphere.

Here’s the review I wrote on Amazon and Goodreads:

This is an excellent book to read if you are a writer trying to improve your descriptive prose. Rayne Hall writes about several areas where description can be improved, such as focusing on smell, sound, light, and color. Further, she details several techniques within each subsection that one can use to make a scene or setting come alive.

I was working on a short story at the time I read this book, and my opening scene was set in a bland office with a pair of characters who might as well have just been talking heads in white space. The detail just wasn’t there. After reading this book I was able to insert description about the light of the sun filtering through the windows and the aroma of the coffee in one of the character’s hands, and so on. The scene really came alive and was far more interesting to read than my original draft.

Further, she goes beyond the description of just the base techniques and areas of detail to focus on and applies them to different kinds of scenes: openings (Like the one I was working on above), climaxes, action scenes, and fight scenes. Different details are needed for different kinds of scenes, both to set mood and to also ground the reader into a believable story. A fight scene doesn’t lack believability when it’s set in a fantastic setting. A fight scene lacks believability when the man fighting for his life is pausing to smell the proverbial roses.

All in all, an excellent read and one I will return to again and again as reference during the revision process.