On my last post about describing a setting, where I suggested having a character interact with the setting, Mary Catelli left this comment (for which I hereby thank her):
"Eh, only if you include 'notice' among 'interact.'
a work in which every time a character walks past a flowerbed, he
notices what flowers are blooming, and whether they used wizardry to
keep them blooming at the same time, and whether the plants need
dead-heading. Never touches, but he notices.
Some characters, of
course, will notice things only when they are actually using them. But
the point-of-view will determine what gets described."
And I was excited enough by these ideas that I decided to just do another blog post, continuing this topic.
in this context I would agree that "interact" includes "notice." I
would even include situations where the sight (or smell, or sound, etc.)
of something in the setting triggers a memory, decision, emotion, etc.
The interaction need not be a physical activity. I think what's
important is that this aspect of the setting becomes more interesting
because of its involvement in the plot or characterization (or both); it
becomes charged with meaning.
Of course, this all reflects my
personal preference, too, as both reader and writer. I tend to shy away
from paragraphs like this one:
"The wallpaper was green with
beige stripes. In the far corner sat a wooden chair with a cushion seat
of forest green. Next to the chair stood an end table with crooked legs;
it held a deck of cards, a heavy glass ashtray, and a large lamp with a
dusty shade ..."
I could give these lines to twenty different
writers and ask them to put a character into this scene, a character who
would interact with these objects and have opinions about them and
reveal things about him/herself in doing so. And I would get twenty
different scenes, all of them more interesting than my original
As pointed out by Mary Catelli, the character might not
even need to touch any of the objects to interact with them. The
character could "notice" them by remembering how his late grandfather
always sat in that chair, or by longing for a cigarette at the sight of
the ashtray, or by judging the room's owner for not fixing the table
legs, or by planning to hit someone over the head with the lamp, and so
The one way I probably wouldn't incorporate "noticing" would be by just tacking it on to the scene, like so:
noticed that the wallpaper was green with beige stripes. In the far
corner sat a wooden chair with a cushion seat of forest green. Next to
the chair stood an end table with crooked legs; it held a deck of cards,
a heavy glass ashtray, and a large lamp with a dusty shade ..."
as Mary Catelli also noted, sometimes the particular objects a
character focuses on tell us something important. So, I actually could
use the above "John noticed" lines if the objects he's noticing are very
important to the story, if there's a reason he's noticing them among
everything else in the room. But if they're just background, I wouldn't
bother to describe them in such detail, because then that just becomes
an inventory, and not too interesting.