Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Setting

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Setting is an important element of every book, whether it's as general as the name of the city or town where the story takes place or as specific as the lab where the heroine is working on a vaccine for a rare disease. The question is...How much is too much?

Like your characters' backstory, setting can become an information dump if you're not careful. Do your readers really need to know the precise pattern in the carpet? Is it vital to the plot? Or is it a way to increase your word count?

By dropping in pieces of the setting as they become necessary to the story, you can avoid spending two or three paragraphs describing every building on Main Street or all the furniture in Aunt Emma's parlor. Instead, the blinking neon sign in the hardware store window can flash splotches of red on the bride's disheveled wedding dress. The hero can clamp his hands on his thighs so he doesn't pick at the strings on Aunt Emma's threadbare couch and risk making the whole thing collapse beneath him.

Those details add subtle layers to the scene without intruding on pacing and losing the reader's interest. Characterization can also benefit from the use of instances like the threadbare couch. The hero's feelings for Aunt Emma will show in the care he takes of her belongings, and Aunt Emma's character might be revealed by her inability to part with the items she and her dead husband shared.

Besides location, Setting also gives the reader a sense of time. When the heroine strips off her sweaty T-shirt and cutoffs to jump in the creek, we can be relatively certain the season isn't winter and that we're in a contemporary setting. Shadows creeping into the alley suggests dusk is falling. Horses' hooves clip-clopping on the cobblestone street almost always defines the story as historical. Use well-placed descriptions to help identify the time period and season, whether it's in the past, present, or future, winter, spring, summer, or fall.

Worldbuilding for sci-fi, fantasy, futuristic, steampunk, etc. also falls under Setting. Rather than trudging along with an opening chapter that tells the reader all about the rules of your world, add small components as your characters encounter them. Let your setting grow in the reader's mind with the story. Build it a block at a time to create a memorable place.

Writing craft is a web of interconnecting parts. As I explore one aspect, another piece overlaps, which overlaps with yet more parts. Use what you know and learn to help improve other areas, and you continue to grow as a writer. I am. :)

Up next--Numbers in Writing.

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!


  1. I agree. I've found it really difficult when doing a sci-fi not too get too carried away with describing the world I've built! Practice makes perfect.