Donald Maass on Setting (from THE FIRE IN FICTION)
Excerpts from Chapter 4, “The World of the Novel,” in The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
Do you ever skip description in a novel? I do, too. Obviously, merely describing how things look, sound, taste, feel, and smell is not, by itself, going to bring a location to life. Something more is required. Is it a setting that is unusual, exotic, or unexpected? If so, our job would be easy. We merely would have to find a spot on the face of the earth where a novel has not previously been set. …
The trick is not to find a fresh setting or a unique way to portray a familiar place; rather, it is to discover in your setting what is unique for your characters, if not for you. You must go beyond description, beyond dialect, beyond local foods to bring setting into the story in a way that integrates it into the very fabric of your characters’ experience.
In other words, you must instill the soul of a place into your characters’ hearts and make them grapple with it as surely as they grapple with the main problem and their enemies. How do you do that? It takes work but the basic principles of powerful settings are not exceptionally hard to grasp.
(quoted from pages 81–82)
About the book:
Discover the Difference Between a So-So Manuscript and a Novel Readers Can’t Forget
We’ve all read them: novels by our favorite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?
Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories that never take flight. They don’t grip the imagination, let alone the heart. They merit only a shrug and a polite dismissal by agents and editors.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In The Fire in Fiction, successful literary agent and author Donald Maass shows you not only how to infuse your story with deep conviction and fiery passion, but how to do it over and over again.
Maass, Donald. “The World of the Novel” in The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 81–116. Print.
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