Today's setting example comes to us from Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, a friend of the blog whose name you might recognize from the comments.
Once out of the park, Clotilde stood still, the sounds and sights of the city surrounding her. Brightly dressed people bustled past on the pavement and the street was full of large car and double-decker buses. Everywhere she looked, something was moving. Her fingers clenched the plastic bag with the advertisement. She resisted the urge to run back to the river and hide. She needed to find someone to give her directions - not the Yank, obviously, but someone who lived here and knew London.
Across the raging traffic she could see a small coffee shop. Clotilde waved at the car until one stopped. She smiled and stepped into the street to cross. The driver hooted his horn and she broke into a run, dodging the rest of the traffic. She practically fell into the coffee shop, shaking the rain from her hair.
What is done well, and what could be done better? I'm impressed with the way prepositional phrases are used to orient the character into a dimensional space. Out of the park, across the traffic, into the street, back to the river. We get a strong sense of what is before and behind the character. That's neatly done.
I think the sense of motion in the world around her is also clear, but I want it to be more concrete. Phrases like "sights and sounds of the city" are too abstract to register a sensory impression. What exactly does she hear? Cars. Footsteps. Horns. What else? What exactly does she see? Cars. People. Pavement. Coffee shop. These words are more concrete than "sights and sounds."
Do we notice anything else about those setting nouns? Most of them are general, though they are concrete. I think this is because the setting details are being presented in the aggregate. We see cars as a group rather than yellow cabs and black sedans and tiny green smart cars. Other than double-decker buses, the street traffic is presented without detail.
You might be thinking that it's better to treat cars and pedestrians in the aggregate in a scene like this -- after all, in this particular excerpt, it does contribute to the sense of busy-ness and bustle to talk about the big groupings of like objects. And that's a good thing. We like the way abundance and aggregation are used to almost overwhelm the reader and character, as if there's so much for her to take in that she can't possibly grasp it all.
But when that car almost hits her? That's when we need to get a bit more specific. That's when the character's focus will shift from the chaos of the many to the problem of the one. Describe that car more specifically. Don't rely on "brightly dressed people" to work as a tag for the driver, either. Give us a flash of him, too, as a specific detail within this setting.
Was anyone else surprised by the rain in the final sentence? I'm assuming that the rain would have been mentioned before now, perhaps when she's still in the park or by the river. But I wonder if it also needs to be mentioned in the context of the setting. Do the pedestrians carry umbrellas? Is there thunder contributing to the noise?
In all, I would characterize this as a good early draft. We have clear orientation and the setting supports and merges with the character's actions. But in a final draft, I would expect some of the less vague details to be made more vibrant and specific.
What else do we see in this setting example?
Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing your paragraphs. Overall, you're on the right track, I think.