Painting with Disappearing Ink… Or ‘Setting’.

Darkness swirls around, heavy as the great stone slabs of the prison, cold and rough under your feet. Straw cracks as you lean forward, the hair of your neck lifting. You freeze again, slivers of moonlight from the barred window pooling along the blade of your sword like white fire.

You’re not alone.

Can you picture it? Sight, touch, sound. The white space of the blank page painted with words to create an illusion of setting, a set built not on any stage, but in the walls of the reader’s mind.

But as words are necessary to paint it, so they are also necessary to keep it in place. Or else it starts to fade, disappearing in the reader’s mind, even if action and dialogue continues, until the scene seems somehow unrealistic, disembodied voices and actions floating in a void. Which isn’t to say you’ll necessarily lose the reader’s interest. The reader may still be fascinated with your voices and actions, the twists of plot. But what you do lose is the illusion of reality, the suspension of disbelief. And the reader’s connection to the story will start to diminish, their worries and tensions recede, because the stakes seem less real.

The power of the story drains away, almost unnoticed.

So what can you do? It’s actually pretty easy, once you know what to look for it. Dab a few fresh splatters of paint here and there, bolster the walls and floors, turn on the wind machine. Keep your characters firmly anchored on the stage you’ve built, and don’t let them drift into empty space.

Not that there aren’t risks. Because if you spend too much time fixing your stage, having your handyman run around painting walls and plugging in wind machines, the story is going to slow. Pace slackens. Tension diminishes. And you’ve lost the reader again, albeit in a different way.

It’s a balance. So how do you know how much setting work to do and when?

I wish I had a better answer, but I think it’s feel.

You are your story’s first reader, an experienced reader, and—in my experience–your gut should twinge. There are spaces when action slackens, or the background changes, and it just feels natural to touch up the set.

Despite my vague answer, I actually think that this is one of those things that is easy to get right, as long as you’re watching for it. If you put a little care into your story, and make this a box to check in one of your revision passes, I think you should be fine. Which is good, because then you can focus on the action.


With a howl, a beast explodes from the darkness. Claws flash. Pain burns your wrist and the sword spins away, swallowed by darkness. The cold wall smashes into your back, even as your fingers plunge desperately into a furred throat…

Action’s the fun part. So keep your paint fresh and enjoy it….


This image is also old, from the teenage years. I liked to play with light and shadow, and actually wouldn’t mind getting back into it now. I was going to do a new image for the post, but ran out of time, and this one didn’t seem too far removed, so here we are. I’m starting to have more draft posts than appropriate images, so there may be the odd mismatch until I have some more generic paintings worked up to bridge the gaps… As usual, we’ll figure it out…

Oops. Or wonderful distraction.

Um, Oops.

I actually have a post brewing somewhere about not getting distracted by the internet, and keeping the monster (me) in the cage. And what did I do?

Found a wonderful book and blog (Sky Jumpers and Peggy Eddleman)… And links from her blog to other wonderful blogs… And…

Gulp. My Feedly is pretty full!

As I may have mentioned, between the job and the Hooligans, I don’t have a whack of free time. So, I might have to do some blog pruning soon, to balance  shiny and informative blog posts with actually typing stuff in my manuscript, which is growling at me angrily.

Today was another bad day, as I got a panic attack that Yahoo (my personal email provider) would disappear overnight and all my story ideas–which I tend to email myself for convenience–would disappear and I would throw myself off a bridge. So I spent a good two hours compiling, polishing, and saving them to a file on my laptop. Whew.

Good use of my time? I have no idea. 🙂

On a plus note, in the last week, I have done about ten pages of rewriting the manuscript in a tighter POV and… wow. It’s hard to know if something is better or not when you’re so close to it, but I’m pretty sure I feel a new power in the changes I’m making, more potency to the pages. It’s a bit worrying in case I screw this whole thing up, for example from overworking the manuscript, but I’m still pretty excited. I feel like I might have levelled up (oh yes, antiquated arcade game post coming up, he he).

Craft post coming soon!


This image (the devilish baby) was done for this post, which delayed the publishing a bit, but I was hoping for an icon I could use for more random procrastination-related posts, and decided to put a bit more time into it, as it might be reused. The time investment falls somewhere between the snake and the little dragon, and I’m not sure yet whether it was worth it. I’ll see how I feel with the benefit of time, which is usually what happens with my art. I have no objectivity immediately after finishing it, and can better evaluate things a couple of weeks later. And, yes, that’s common for writing too… 🙂