Skip to content

Stir Up Your Setting Refresher

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I love writing and reading stories that have great settings—to a point. I want the setting to be there, to be realistic, and yet I don’t want the description of the setting to so overwhelm what’s going on that I end up skipping long passages of description (as is happening with one of the books I’m currently reading, Charles Dickens’s Bleak House). So here’s a little refresher on setting, which is one of the very first series I did.

Setting (May 2007)
Stir Up Your Setting

    “…What cinematographers can do with cameras, lighting, and computer-generated graphics, we writers must do with words on a page. And not only that, we must do it in a way that incorporates the grittiness of a New York street or the relaxed, honey-filled air of a small Midwestern town into the action of our stories without being intrusive. Movies are allowed wide, sweeping angles of an Arizona desert at sunset. We aren’t. …”

Stir Up Your Setting – Part 1: World Building

    “…World Building isn’t just for SciFi/Fantasy writers! Even if you’re using a contemporary, real place like New York City or London, the setting is just as important as if you’re writing about a fictional city or another place/time/world. Your job as author is to bring the reader into your world, not just assume they’ll know your setting without being shown. …”

SUYS – World Building…A Step Further

    “Because of the genre, Speculative Lit writers (science fiction, fantasy, allegory, etc.) have both an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to setting. Spec Lit readers expect much more detail when it comes to the setting. They want the author to do the cinematic sweep of the landscape (through the lens of the character observing it) and describe it in detail. But that means the Spec Lit author must know his world(s) intimately and be able to use captivating, picturesque language to describe the setting. To a lesser extent, readers of historicals/historical romances expect a larger measure of setting description (including costuming and props) than we typically see in contemporary fiction. …”

Stir Up Your Setting – Part 2: Using All Five Senses

    “…Just as character descriptions should be gradually peppered throughout the introductory scene, the description of the scene shouldn’t all come at once . . . unless there is something vastly important about the look of the setting—such as a pauper entering a palace for the first time, but even then, be sure to tie emotion and the five senses to the experience of the setting. …”

Stir Up Your Setting–REAL Fictional Settings

    “…Describing a fictional setting for readers is like giving someone directions how to get somewhere. If it’s a place we’ve never been or only been to once or twice, it’s going to be hard for us to explain with confidence how to get there, where to turn, how long it will take. If we’ve lived there many years—or all our lives—we can do it turn-by-turn (“take Highway-22 West to exit 52/College Ave. Turn left at the top of the exit, and stay straight on College Ave.—it will become Oak Alley Lane after the next light”), with lots of landmarks (“turn right on Bocage Avenue–there’s a service station–Buddy’s–on the near corner and a library on the far corner . . . if you get to Tezcuco Place, you’ve gone too far.”), and down-to-the-minute time estimates (“it takes me about fifteen minutes to get home from downtown if I take the freeway, twenty if I take surface streets.”). …”

Favorite Settings on Film

    “…The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. These films, while also being great action films, give a visual tour of Europe unlike any other modern movie I can think of. I especially love the scenes in Moscow in Supremacy. The action sequences (especially the car chases) chew up the scenes, and yet the setting gives them their sense of urgency—from the narrow streets of India to the crowded streets of Berlin. The weather also helps set the mood—as it’s usually either raining, snowy, or cloudy for most of the movie. The three main scenes that are bright and sunny are (a) the end of the first film when he joins Marie at her shop on the beach, (b) the opening of the second film when they’re happy together in India (before the assassin* shows up), and (c) the end of the second film when Bourne calls Landy and she tells him his real name and where he was born—emphasizing the happiness, the optimism of those scenes. …”

Stir Up Your Setting–Making Setting a Character

    “…Think about the difference between the setting of a stage play and the setting of a modern, big-budget movie. No matter how much money a production pours into building sets for the stage, it’s always going to look like a set. Why? Because the environment isn’t real. There are no elements, no weather, no sunlight, no wind. When movies are filmed on location, they have so much more realism—and actors will tell you that they can get into their roles better when away from soundstages or backlot locations. …”

Stir Up Your Setting–Finding a Happy Medium

    “…I have a tendency to be a ‘too much setting’ writer. Almost everything I’ve written in the past twenty or so years has been set in my fictional Louisiana city. When I first started letting anyone (my mom and grandmother) read what I’d written, one of my mom’s comment was that she wished I would include more about the setting because she wasn’t getting a good feel for it. That’s when I started studying this element of craft. I started finding places where I could interject tidbits about the setting. And then, once people started commenting on how much they liked it, I wanted to put more in (you know, if they like it a little, they’ll like it a lot, right?). …”

For Discussion:
A. What’s one place you want to visit because you saw it in a movie or read a book set there? (Even if it doesn’t really exist—like Middle Earth or Avalon)

B. What’s your favorite setting you’ve ever used for one of your stories?

  1. Wednesday, February 18, 2009 8:24 am

    There are two settings I would love to visit. I would love to visit Tara, both before and after the Civil War. I want to pick up a clump of soil just like Scarlett did.

    Another place I’d like to visit is Mitford from the Jan Karon series. It seems like such a happy, friendly place (and I’m pretty sure I know some of those characters in real life).

    As for the setting from one of my stories? The one I’m working on now–Miller’s Creek. It’s much like Mitford, only Texas-style!


  2. Wednesday, February 18, 2009 9:14 am

    A. Heathercrest. A historical home described in one of my crit partners stories.

    B. The disability equestrian center in my series. How I wish it really existed. I’d love to take a trail ride in the woods that I see in my head while I write those scenes.


  3. Lori Cagle permalink
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:08 am

    A. Bonneterre of course. I seemed to go there in times when life isn’t quite like I want it to be here.

    B. An old farm in south Pennsylvania. There is a warmth there that depicts home in away that I only can imagine.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: