Saturday, September 25, 2010

Setting, or a Sense of Place

Setting, in my opinion, is one of the most important ingredients in a successful story. But I've read a few novels lately that barely describe a neighborhood, a house, a room, a town, a tree, or anything that surrounds the characters. We need to place our characters somewhere, as they go through life or have adventures or work out their problems - don't you think?

Most writers are extremely observant - watching mannerisms, eavesdropping conversations, aware of the emotional ebb and tide of situations - and filing these away for future references when they might need them in a story. But don't forget to add the elements of place (Setting) that will increase your reader's enjoyment and understanding of the characters and their situations.

Whether it be the quiet hush of a deep redwood forest, or the noise and constant activity of a city street, show us your characters' surroundings, with enough detail so that we might actually picture them there.

Practice taking pictures in your mind as you go through your daily life, or as you travel, or even as you watch movies or television. File those things away for later use, so that you might be able to recall the wide open vistas of a high desert, or the dusty chalkboards of a classroom, or the hulks of discarded vehicles in the tall weeds of your neighbor's yard.

I don't care how good your story is. A well-told setting, described so that we can picture it in our minds as if we were there, is a requirement, in my opinion.

Can you think of any great settings you remember from stories or novels you've read? How much did it lend to your enjoyment of the story?


Susan said...

I agree. When I'm in the middle of a good book I want to have a good picture in my head of the setting.
What an inspiring post.

Loretta Nyhan said...

Really great post, Linda.

Short story writers are usually excellent at describing a setting. They have to be quick and concise, as well as vivid in their use of language. James Joyce, Joyce Carol Oates, Kate Chopin come to mind.

Unknown said...

Great post, Linda. Food for thought in my WIP, where setting plays a huge part. Love the photos!

Linda Benson said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment!

Susan - are you working on anything new?

Loretta - yes, definitely, and I remember Hemingway's short story - Hills Like White Elephants. Have you read that one?

Good luck on your WIP, Sandy. Can hardly wait to read it!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Absolutely! What a great post, Linda! I couldn't agree more. The details of setting really help to make a story come alive, I think.

Monica said...

You are spot on! I couldn't agree more.

Vonna said...

I agree, and a recent book I've read which hit the setting spot-on is Kimberly Griffiths Little's The Healing Spell. Her setting was both realistic and magical.