Setting is the when and where of your story. On the surface, it can seem simplistic, maybe even boring. Who wants to read long pages of description? Those are the pages that as readers we skim over until “something starts happening.” Ever done that?
If it’s so boring and basic, why focus on it when you write stories? Can’t you just say where the characters are and then move on to the more interesting action? Well, you could, but if you do that, you’re missing out on a huge element of fiction that can make your story great.
Think about it. Where would Harry Potter be without Hogwarts? Katniss without the Districts or the Arena? Or Augustus and Hazel without the church basement Cancer Kids Support Group or even, Amsterdam?
Or think about the classics. What would Heathcliff do without Wuthering Heights and the windy moors? To Kill a Mockingbird depends on the social and historical context of the 1930’s in the south.
In all of these stories, the plot depends on the setting. The characters, plots, and settings work together to create a story. In fantasy, where authors build entire worlds, setting plays a clear role. But handled well, setting can reflect the time and place of a story, the mood, character development, and even the pace of your story.
Setting should be built into the other elements without pages of extraneous boring description, but without a clearly defined setting, you have “talking heads.” Your characters aren’t grounded and your story can suffer.
When you begin a story, one of the first places to start is developing your characters. We spend hours interviewing our characters, writing sketches, creating back stories, and then we set our characters wherever and we’re off. But have you ever given as much consideration to your setting as you do to your characters? No? Try it.
When you thoroughly develop your setting, you will have more interesting spaces that reflect your characters. You’ll can i buy wellbutrin online also be more consistent with your details.
Following is a list of questions and prompts you can use to begin to develop your setting:
1. List five of the most obvious places the action will take place in your story.
2. Take each of those five places and make them more specific, interesting, and tied to your character. For example, in the novel Speak, much of the action takes place not just at the high school, but in the art room and the janitor’s closet, two specific spaces that reflect the main character’s state of mind. First, she uses art to heal and her “secret place” is the janitor’s closet where she can hide out and avoid people. But symbolically, a janitor’s closet is where cleaning supplies are kept and this is where she also goes to get away from her toxic environment, to “get clean” from those around her.
3. Jot down a few ideas as to what action might take place in those spaces.
4. What is the time period of your story?
5. How will the social context: politics, historical (or future) attitudes, traditions, religious beliefs of this setting impact your character?
6. What season is it?
7. What time of day does most of your story take place? Daytime? Nighttime?
8. What’s the weather like?
9. Is the space empty or crowded?
10. Is there a clear relationship between the setting and the plot?
11. What sensory details can you add? What does the place smell like? Look like? Sound like? Feel like? Or even taste like?
This list should help you get started thinking about fully developing the setting in your current story.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be addressing each of the elements in this list and how to create an amazing setting that supports your plot and characters without boring your readers.
What do you struggle with the most when it comes to incorporating your setting into your stories? Share it in the comments below.