Settings and Star Trek

Several times, I've encountered in writing articles the advice that all, or most, setting description should be omitted from your stories. I think that can be a mistake.

Of course you don't want to overdo it, but setting is, or can be, very important to a tale. It may set a mood, which is no small thing to do for a reader. It may be part of characterization. Describing a man's office or a woman's kitchen can tell the reader a lot about those characters. But even if it serves as nothing but a backdrop against which action or emotion is portrayed, it is still important.


Because the lack of setting description turns visually oriented readers (such as myself) into Melkots.


Anyone old enough to remember the original Star Trek series may remember an episode titled "Spectre of the Gun" (aka "The Last Gunfight"). The Enterprise trespassed on Melkotian space and the Melkots punished the earthmen by forcing them to reenact the gunfight at the OK Corral ... with the men of the Enterprize being the Clantons--the losers. The Melkotian plan was to execute the trespassers with elements of their own culture.

But the Melkotians either didn't learn enough about the setting from the starship's memory/history banks, or else they didn't care enough to completely recreate it. Their rendition of Tombstone, Arizona had big gaps and voids. The buildings of the town had only a front wall. In the saloon, for example, and you could see the landscape of the alien planet behind the bar. Above it, a clock hung in thin air. It was bizarre, and help set the tone for one of Star Trek's creepiest (and most riveting) episodes.

In that case, visual gaps in the setting were extremely effective. But if you're not going for creepy sci-fi in your story, turning your readers into Melkots may not set so well with them. It can be disconcerting and decrease their enjoyment of the story.

That's the way I am when I read something that doesn't give me sufficient information to create the setting in my head. The characters will act in front of a bizarre, and perhaps inadvertently creepy, half-built set with black voids here and there.

The best setting descriptions don't include every little detail, of course, because you don't want to bog the reader down in unnecessary minutia. But a good writer knows, or has to learn, the minimum to provide so the reader's imagination can recreate a whole, reasonably accurate setting/backdrop for the story's action.