Many people love character-driven stories. Some prefer plot-driven stories. Not many people think about scene-driven stories.
(Author scratches head. Do they even exist? What an odd tale that would be to read, huh?)
In any case, setting is vitally important, as much so as the characters and the plot. No. Really!
Would Gone With the Wind been such a hit if the backdrop was in Idaho?
As much as I adore my characters, I have to keep my mind focused on their location.
(You’d be amazed at how often I’ll spot a place and mentally note something about it for future writing.)
The great thing about setting is that — barring highly specific details — the same place can be used over and over again!
Coffee shops always seem to be coffee shops, don’t they? Just add something quirky and you have a brand new location.
Mountains, snow, the smell of pine, the iciness of your breath fogging — doesn’t matter if you’re in the Carpathians, the Rockies or the Appalacians. It’s all the same.
What Setting Does
So how important is setting?
* Setting keeps reader interest
How often have you read a story where the characters experience the majority of their interactions in the same room? While this might work for a one-act or minimalist play, it’s kind of boring for a book.
You’re a writer! You don’t have to worry about set design costs! Spice things up a bit!
* Setting offers a window into the world of your book
As I quipped above, ‘Gone With the Wind’ was written for a particular time and place. By writing about a southern American plantation and the people there, Margaret Mitchell revealed a world that many readers didn’t know.
(Which sort of goes back to keeping the readers’ interest above.)
* Setting allows you to create emotion
What do you want your reader to feel? Is this scene all about being upbeat or do you want to convey a sense of doom and gloom?
Put your characters in a jazz bar, a cemetery or an office cube-farm. Each scene has its own inherent emotions attached to them. This scenic shorthand allows the writer to focus on character and plot.
* Setting becomes tool for point of view
Nothing screams character-driven than letting your character choose the time and place! If she’s interested in dirt bike racing, you’ll have a completely different story than a character who enjoys the opera!
What Setting Needs
There are a few things to consider when as you’re constructing your novel.
Remember to mix it up a bit. ‘Friends’ was a television show about a group of people who frequented the same coffee shop.
If that’s what your tale is about, great. If not, you should consider keeping things fresh by moving your characters around their world.
* Descriptive Phrases
Have fun with description! Give a place a distinct feel with a sentence or two (no more than that!) that is unique.
Another approach is to focus on your character point of view. A circus is a fine place for a happy-go-lucky young woman. It’s quite another for a dour woman who has some serious emotional baggage.
You can use the scene to further imbed your characters into your readers’ minds.
* Use Your Senses
Or, at least your character’s senses!
Stop! Think of a smell! Does it remind you of a place? What about a song? Do you recall an emotion with it?
The same goes for your reader and your character! Drop the sensation into the narrative.
Ways to Achieve Awesome Settings
There are three I can think of:
If you outline your novels, you can consciously consider the story and how best to set your scenes. Just drop a note on each index card/Post-It note/Scrivener text document/what have you to indicate where you want the action to occur.
* Be Aware
If outlining isn’t your thing, don’t despair. As you’re writing, keep in mind the scenes you’ve already written. Maybe jot them down on a list as you go… When the next scene comes around, consider where you’ve been and where you want to go. Break up the monotony and use a place that hasn’t been seen yet.
* Flesh Out Your Characters
As noted above, a great tool for setting is the characters themselves. Take the time to expand on your characters, their likes and dislikes, their quirks and foibles. Using these tidbits can greatly add depth to your settings.
Have I missed something? What sorts of things do you use to write settings? Websites? Photos?
Get involved! Add a comment below or contact me via email. I’d love to hear from you!