Ron Rozelle. 2005. Description and Setting: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places, and Events. Write Great Fiction Series. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
When I aspired to being an author in my early college years and read a lot of literary books, I cringed and lived in fear of writing detailed descriptions. Even before I studied a lot of mathematics, learned to program computers, and developed the analytical mind of an economist, I dreamed in black & white and could not remember what I ate for breakfast or be described as chatty. I suffered from typical-guy syndrome. After I started writing on a regular basis, Ron Rozelle’s book, Description and Setting, appeared on my radar.
Rozelle describes his purpose in writing with these words:
“We’ll look at various conventions and devices that undergird effective writing (craft), we’ll dissect specific examples of how established writers have provided description and established setting (models), and we’ll look at ways that you can go about the planning, writing, and fine tuning necessary to write quality fiction (wordsmithing).” (3)
For Rozelle, description that does not advance the story is clutter, whether the piece is literary fiction (more description) or popular fiction (less description) (9). Sensory descriptions evoking sights, taste, touch, and hearing help raise the credibility of the writer and help set the mood or tone of a particular scene, anchoring it in time and space (10-11). Striking the right balance between plot, dialogue, and description serves to convey the voice of the author primarily through the emotions brought forward.
Background and Organization
Rozelle is a graduate of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, a retired writing professor, and the author of numerous books, many with a Texas theme. He writes in twelve chapters followed by an appendix and an index. The chapters are:
- The Importance of Description and Setting
- Learning to Pay Attention
- Using All the Tools in Your Kit
- Showing, Telling and Combining the Two
- Sensory Description
- Description of Characters
- Time and Place
- Description and Setting in Specialized Fiction
- Using Description and Setting to Drive the Story
- Working the Magic
- Too Little, Too Much
- Description and Setting in Writing Process
Other books in the Write Great Fiction series focus on dialogue, characters, viewpoint, and plot & structure. Two that I previously reviewed can be found among the references below.
Part of the art of writing is learning to say things uniquely. Rozelle writes:
“One of the most effective ways to convey a particular image to your reader is to show him something that it is similar to. Metaphors, similes, analogies, personification, symbolism, and allusions are all ways to nudge your years towards making the connection that you want them to make.” (45)
An analogy is a carefully laid out comparison. A metaphor is an implied analogy and a simile is more explicit than a metaphor and is prefaced by like or as (45-47). A personification is an object that takes the attributes of a living person (50-51). A symbol is an object that represents something other than itself (52). For example, the cowboy is a symbol of the American west, particularly in the nineteenth century, and of the American spirit more generally. An allusion recalls a famous person, event or written piece (48-49).
Describing people, events, places, and times in clever ways spices up your writing and helps it stand out from previous work.
Ron Rozelle’s Description and Setting provides a helpful and readable guide to writing description. He makes artful use of familiar books and films to highlight his points. Writing students and authors polishing their craft will find this book useful.
Bell, James Scott. 2004. Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish. Write Great Fiction series. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books. (review)
Bell, James Scott. 2008. Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel. Write Great Fiction series. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books. (review).