Author Tip Tuesday – Tip #24 The White Room Syndrome

January 3, 2017

First off – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I hope you find these writing tips will help you get your writing mojo on for 2017 🙂

Q4U: Would you like to see these tips put into a book form? There are two more to go after this one.

Okay, on with the show!

The White Room Syndrome

Have you ever read a story where it's all action and dialogue but you can't quite picture where it's all taking place? This is what I call the White Room Syndrome. It happens when the author fails to give the reader enough setting for the scene. As a rule of thumb I try to always provide at least two or three setting details to anchor the scene.


For instance, you have a scene in your novel that takes place in a classroom. Because most of us already know what classrooms are like, it's easy to assume that we don't need to provide setting details because we believe the reader will provide those on her own. This may be true, but it doesn't provide for an engaging reading experience.

Say we have two characters sitting together in a classroom. There's tension, conflict and witty dialogue between them, but beyond their shared desk it's a white out. A few details added by the POV character will create a sense of dimension.

~~A poster of the cross section of a man's chest hung on the wall–heart, lungs and liver exposed–the corners curling with aged tape held firm by tacks. Across the room a warm breeze blew in through open windows. Mr. Jones's back faced us as he scribbled on the board, chalk scratching in rhythm.~~

See how mentioning three things brings the setting alive? Now you can return to writing the action and dialogue between the characters.

Of course the opposite problem to the white room syndrome is excessive descriptive passages. If I went on and on about every detail in the classroom the reader's eyes would begin to gloss over before he even got to the action/dialogue.

In The Girl on the Train author Pauline Hawkins describes the train from the point of view of the main protagonist.

~~I just want to lean back in the soft, sagging velour seat, feel the warmth of the sunshine streaming through the window, feel the carriage rock back and forth and back and forth, the comforting rhythm of wheels on tracks~~

Don't you feel like you're on the train with her?

Gingerbread Man opens by setting the scene.

~~Rain pelted the windows, the first weather change since college started, and Teagan Lake saw a huge bolt of lightning stretch across the emerald sky. The lights in her dorm room flickered, and a sizzling electric shock zapped her fingers through the keyboard.~~

In Sun & Moon, Katja enters a pub for the first time in order to perform at the open mic night.

~~The bar wasn’t huge. It had a low, wood-beamed ceiling with wooden floors and long tables that were already occupied, making the space feel even smaller. She shuffled past the other musicians and music lovers, holding her guitar case close to her chest. Her eyes darted around the room, searching for a place to sit.~~

Sometimes it just takes two or three details to brighten a setting in order to the ground the reader in the setting and make for a more engaging and enjoyable read.

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