Meredith is a friend of mine from the Washington DC Romance Writers of America chapter. She is savvy, easy to talk to and always has great insight. So, having here her a RU was a no-brainer. I love how she approaches using setting as a powerful tool in your writing.
The Importance of Setting
Why do we love to read fiction? Many of us do so to learn something new, but most of us do it purely for pleasure – to forget about our everyday life, our everyday world, and experience something new and different – to get away without having to actually get into a car or board a bus, train or plane.
Where do we go when we read a book? Well, into the setting and the world of the novel.
So you know where I’m going with this – yup, that setting had better be good. And I don’t just mean well-described (in fact less description is frequently the better way to go – just give your reader enough to spark their imagination so that they can fill in the details). The setting of a novel not only has to be evocative, it does a lot for the story itself, so be sure not to throw away an incredible opportunity. Here are some of the things setting can do for your story:
Adds atmosphere and tone. It gives a feeling to the story. It establishes an atmosphere so you know what kind of story this is going to be. Whether your gothic romance set in a dark castle on a wind-swept moor or your comic, contemporary romance is (with all irony intended), that setting is going to add some sort of atmosphere to your story.
Setting can show more information about a character. If someone sees a woman dressed in a suit they may think she’s an important person. Another would see a professional person. Another wouldn’t see the woman at all, but only her suit and think about how expensive it must have been. A man might not notice what she’s wearing, only that she’s a very pretty, young woman. Each person brings their own values and interests to the picture. What your protagonist or narrator tells us and shows us about the setting tells us as much about them as it tells us about where they are.
It shows character development. Characters change. Settings can change, but not as quickly. A character can see a setting one way the first time they go there, and a completely different way two weeks (or two days or twenty years) later because they have changed in between. For example, if a boy enters a forest for the first time, he may see trees and plants and fallen leaves and think this is a great place to explore and have fun. If, while he’s there, he’s attacked by a wild animal, on his way out of the forest, even though he may pass by the very same trees, plants and leaves, they may no longer look as interesting or attractive as when he came in. Now he may not see the trees for their beauty, but as a hiding place for vicious animals. He may now notice all of the sounds in the forest – the birds calling out, the skittering of smaller animals, and he may be listening for the rustle of something larger. These are all sounds that were there before when he first entered the forest, but he just didn’t notice them. Did the setting change? No. The character did and how he feels toward it.
The setting may provide conflict. As in the animal that attacks the boy in the above example, or a city where it’s easy to get lost or hard to get from one place to another or a country-side that is so vast to the city-dweller. The weather provides its own conflict – both sun and rain, hurricane or tornado. What about the season? The time of day? They too can provide conflict.
It may reflect conflict that is going on in the story. If a character is feeling lost in their own life, they don’t know what to do, having them wandering around a big city not knowing where they are physically would reflect how they are feeling inside of themselves. If a character is feeling trapped by their life or what’s expected of them, you can put them into a small space to reflect that. Be creative, but be thoughtful.
Setting affects the pace of a story. If it is set in the country-side, life moves at a very different pace than it does in a city. The pace of life is different in Santa Fe, New Mexico than it is in Washington, DC so even which city you set your story could make a big difference.
Setting can be used as a character in the story. That doesn’t mean that the setting has to move and talk, it means that it affects the characters and the story itself. Big things may happen there, giving characters strong feelings about it. When a setting has a history for the characters, it comes to life for them.
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself as you’re thinking about your setting and how to use it:
How well does the protagonist know this place?
How well does the antagonist know it?
What does the protagonist love about it?
Why do they hate it?
How does it make them feel?
What does s/he know about this place that no one else does?
What is their favorite place within the setting? Why?
What makes this place different from the reader’s ordinary world?
Finally, as you are developing your story and thinking about the setting in which it takes place, don’t forget your reader. Where would they like to go? And how will your setting take them away from their ordinary world? Bring them someplace wonderful or interesting, someplace where they can lose themselves in the magic of your story.
How do you use setting in your books?
Join us on Monday for Adam Firestone!
Meredith Bond is an award-winning author of a series of traditionally published Regency romances and indie-published paranormal romances, including Magic In The Storm and “In A Beginning”, a short story about Lilith recently published in the anthology, Tales From The Mist. Merry has been teaching writing for the past five years and has published a book so that others can “take” her classes as well. Chapter One is available at your favorite e-retailer. Want to know more, come visit Merry at her website, www.meredithbond.com or chat with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/meredithbondfan) or Twitter (@merrybond).
- Powerful Settings: Finding What is Unique for Your Characters…and You by Tracy March
- Setting – The First, Most Crucial Choice for your Career AND your Character – Blythe Gifford
- C.J. Redwine – How to Escalate Conflict in Your Novel
- Trish Milburn on Setting as Character
- 10 Ways to Create Vivid, Compelling Characters, by C.J. Redwine