This one comes to us courtesy of Jody Wallace. Jody's other self, Ellie Marvel, sold to Alicia a few times. I was a particular fan of her interactive erotic romance - scifi hybrid, Megan's Choice, as longtime readers of this blog might remember.
So let's take a look at what Jody can do.
"Sorry, sweetie, we're out of porterhouses." Annette, Harry's grey-haired waitress, slid a stemmed water glass onto the table in front of him and flipped her receipt book to the next page.
Out of porterhouses? How could Miss Sandie's Tea Room run out of steaks when he was the only customer who ordered them?
Harry stared at the frilly, blue-checkered menu as if another werewolf-friendly item were going to appear among the scones and scotch eggs. Miss Sandie's was his customary lunch spot, but he'd rather fire up the grill himself than settle for a fruit plate.
Which was saying a lot. Harry hadn't gotten a culinary gene, just a furry one.
"Are you sure, Annette? Did Sandie order T-bones?" He sniffed, but he couldn't detect much beyond the fresh flowers on his table and apple pie odor that saturated the dining room.
Yes, we like this. Notice that the setting is named, and then almost every other detail related to the setting is a prop. The water glass, the menu, the order book -- these are all items that reinforce the setting. Notice how Jody slips these details in as part of the action. The world is coming alive around the characters because the characters are interacting with the world. The pov character has a scene-level problem related to the setting. The elements are integrated and coherent.
For contrast, look at what would happen if we did a brief info-dump type description.
Harry sat at his usual lunch table in Miss Sandie's Tea Room. There were fresh flowers on the table, and the odor of apple pie saturated the dining room air. A frilly, blue-checkered menu was propped open at the end of the table right beside a stemmed water glass.
"Sorry, sweetie, we're out of porterhouses." etc.
A lot of the same vivid details, but the presentation is less effective because it's all static. Nothing is moving. Even where the verbs are interesting, they're immobile. Instead of a scene in which the story details are interrelated and support each other, we have a flatter version of the same.
When we talk about things like blending setting with action, this is what we mean. But it's also a good example of another principle: don't describe the setting detail until it becomes relevant to the action.
Take another look at the way the menus are used in Jody's good example and my junky rewrite. In hers, the werewolf is reading the menu and trying to solve a problem. The menu details are mentioned as he reads and thinks it through. In mine, the menu is mentioned before we reach the point where Harry has to read it. It's out of sequence.
Any questions? Any other observations?