Friday, February 11, 2011

Setting By Example: Crusie/Mayer

Still talking about effective ways to write setting--
This example comes to us from "Agnes and the Hitman" by Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer. I think I might have used this book as an example once before, but I can't remember what purpose it served then. This book is good enough that we could use it as examples of lots of great things -- action, comedy, pov, emotional writing, pacing, beats -- you name it, we can probably find an example in these pages.

So let's take a look at how setting details are made relevant. This passage comes on page 27 of the hardcover edition. Agnes, our heroine, is a food columnist who has just been the victim of a crime in her home. Shane is the man who has been sent to protect her.

Shane had started in the kitchen, a big warm room with red walls and white counters that smelled of chocolate and raspberry, quiet except for the rumble of voices from the hall.

"That's Detective Xavier and Joey," Agnes said, looking worried.

Everything in Agnes's kitchen was neat and professional, but nothing said big money, ransom kind of money. In fact, the only thing that had caught his eye was the row of gleaming razor-sharp knives stuck to the magnetic bars on the wall, and next to them long-handled forks that looked sharp as spikes, and beyond those more sharpened, shiny tools, every damn one of them lethal as hell.

Agnes worked in the Kitchen of Death.

There are several reasons this run of setting information is well written. It incorporates many sensory details -- color, sound, temperature, and scent all appear in the first sentence alone. It's relevant to character, both to Agnes as the woman prone to weaponizing her kitchen tools and to Shane who would evaluate the environment for threats. It taps into the air of mystery surrounding the crime when the question of ransom is raised and discounted. It breaks up the description with a line of dialogue to keep the pacing quick, and it keeps us pretty solidly in Shane's point-of-view throughout. It even ends in a punchline to sum up the environment and enhance the comic tone.

And it does all this in 116 words.

Now that's some efficient writing.



justamouse said...

But Crusie is brilliant.

Eva Gale said...


Wrong account.

But Crusie is brilliant. (take deux)

Edittorrent said...

She is. And that's exactly why we might want to study and emulate her techniques. :)


Julie Harrington said...

I LOVE that book. One of the best ones I've read in recent years. I even mailed it all the way to Montana to a friend. :)


Eva Gale said...

my problem with crusie is that I can't stop licking the page long enough to actually look behind the curtain.

Obvioulsy I should.