Posted On December 7, 2012 by Print This Post

The Importance of Setting with Meredith Bond

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.

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How do you use setting in your books?

Join us on Monday for Adam Firestone!

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Bio:

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).

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20 Responses to “The Importance of Setting with Meredith Bond”

  1. Hi Meredith,

    I set my books in Chicago. The city sparkles and dims in all the right places.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 7, 2012, 6:49 am
  2. Morning Meredith!

    I like to set mine in a small town – it’s what I’ve known most of my life. But I do like to add in some exotic locales, just for a bit more conflict – a fish out of water type of conflict. Then it’s research research research!

    I do admit though, that remembering to layer in setting is a tough one for me…not sure why, but I struggle with it.

    Thanks so much for the great post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 7, 2012, 9:12 am
    • I’m with you, Carrie. It’s what I’m doing right now with my WIP — going back through and putting in all of those descriptions of setting!
      Exotic locales are terrific. Be sure you do good research though, you don’t want people who truly know those places to scoff at your descriptions. And don’t forget to sprinkle your research in with a light hand instead of a dump.
      Good luck with it!

      Posted by Merry Bond | December 7, 2012, 9:26 am
  3. This is great, Meredith! It’s so true that we each take something different away when we read, as you described with the woman in the suit.

    Setting can influence what I choose to read, too. For instance, I just moved to Chicago so I’ve been having fun reading (and re-reading) some contemporary romance stories and other books set here. I always like reading books set in places I know, as long as they’re accurate!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 7, 2012, 9:52 am
    • It’s so true, Becke! And I imagine that reading books set in your new home-town will provide you with some idea of new places to explore.
      Enjoy it! And thanks for commenting!

      Posted by Merry Bond | December 7, 2012, 9:59 am
  4. This was posted to the RU inbox for Merry..

    Hi Merry,
    I don’t know if you remember me. I used to live around DC and belonged to WRW.
    I love your setting questions. They will help me make my setting richer. It’s something I think about somewhere in the middle of writing my scene. Now I have a direction to go. Thanks for sharing.

    Sia Huff
    Golden Heart Finalist
    Maggie Winner

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 7, 2012, 10:08 am
    • I’m so glad my questions will help, Sia! Considering them before or as you’re writing will hopefully help.
      And I hope you can come back some time to visit WRW — you know our retreat is fantastic!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by Merry Bond | December 7, 2012, 10:20 am
  5. As a reader, setting is a biggie for me. One author set her novels in Alberta. Love that province. Part prairie and part mountains and wilds. Hawaii is another favourite setting. I think this is why Johanna Lindsey’s Paradise Wild is still one of my fave books I can re-read today. I also love Italy. I’m currently reading a romantic suspense set in Venice. I think it has to do more with the locals. I love seeing how other people live, so I always want one MC to be a local. I haven’t found a romance set in Mexico yet…but I’m still looking.

    Great post. I’m a sucker for setting.

    Posted by Mercy | December 7, 2012, 10:29 am
  6. I enjoyed this discussion on setting, Meredith. My stories are set in the Midwest, in Cleveland, in particular, because that’s where I spent most of my life.

    Cleveland with it’s quirky people, great cultural institutions, fantastic eateries, and ever-changing weather is as much a part of the story as my main characters are. Over the course of the story the protagonist falls in love with her hometown again as much as she falls in love with the hero.

    Posted by Reese Ryan | December 7, 2012, 10:35 am
    • Wow, Reese, that sounds great! It sounds like you’ve really made setting an integral part of your stories. I’m sure they are much richer for it!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by Merry Bond | December 7, 2012, 1:38 pm
  7. Hello, Merry!

    A story’s setting is character. I created a fictional town in the Sierra Nevada mountains for my current ms. Since the story starts in late September and ends in January, I researched elevations and annual snow levels for the area. A bit obsessive, but the little details count.

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 7, 2012, 4:01 pm
  8. Merry – I am so sorry. I just noticed my earlier post didn’t go through. I just wanted to say – it was great to have you with us today.

    Excellent post!

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | December 7, 2012, 8:26 pm
  9. Merry–great post! I love setting my books in the mountains because it’s a favorite place for me, so I enjoy visiting as I write. :)

    Posted by Stacey Joy Netzel | December 7, 2012, 8:49 pm

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