Unicorns – Character Through Setting

It’s (debatably) a bad habit when beginning a scene that I want to pull the reader into a space for them to have the characters fill, like a stage before the show begins that the players will eventually perform on. I don’t always fall back on this. A lot of the time I believe less is more. In an earlier scene of Unicorns I state simply that the guys were all in a gym lifting weights, then playing basketball on the gym’s indoor court. No need to describe extensively, in fact those are such universal spaces to imagine I think less description allows the reader to use an actual/vivid memory of their own without my details getting in the way.

However, there are times where dedicated description of setting serves a purpose and that is when setting not only supports characters, but informs them. The valley of ashes is a paragon example. So, whereas I restrain myself on describing a gym, in the following case there’s a lot of thematic allusion and implication being done in describing my female lead, Julia’s apartment:

Julia lived in the ground floor of a two story complex only the Landlord knew had been erected in Hollywood’s golden age. It circled a courtyard planted with lush palms, ferns, lavender, and hydrangeas that Colin had to weave around to reach her unit. Her door was in the rear of the courtyard. Furthest from the street, it benefited from a lip of wall that thwarted the view of any of the other doorways or windows in the building.

The unique privacy her doorway claimed was counterbalanced by the floor to ceiling windows of her living room which framed the courtyard’s central fountain. Julia had kept the venetian blinds of the expansive panes tautly shut and completely spread for as long as Colin had known of her in the apartment. He presumed, as most men do, the circumstances had been the same prior to his experience.

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