With writers, there seems to be two camps: those who love writing setting description, and those…who…don’t. There isn’t always a lot of middle ground.
Becca is definitely in the former group. She’s freakishly good at world building. Each setting she writes feels like a living, breathing place, yet distilled to have clarity and purpose, so only the most important bits are shown without disrupting the pace or action.
For many, when it comes to describing the setting, the words don’t immediately flow. Some of us (cough-me-cough) tend to write on the leaner side of things, especially early on, and it is only in later drafts we put more “meat” on the setting “bone.”
Here’s the good news: regardless of whether you embrace setting description or not, one way to level up your writing is to think hard about each location you choose. The “where” of each scene is an important factor, and worth the extra time to plan. Here’s two big reasons why:
It Achieves Story and Character Depth
The right setting can greatly enhance our story, providing tests and challenges for our hero to overcome (the Black Gate in The Lord Of The Rings, or the Cornucopia in The Hunger Games), fortify the character, reminding them of their greatest assets (Hermione and the Hogwarts library come to mind) or allow the ghosts of the past to resurface and shape a character’s vulnerability (the sewers in Stephen King’s It.)
The location can even reinforce a character’s deepest longing (the Notre Dame stadium in Rudy), and act as a tangible reminder of a missing Human Need (The Incredibles’ Bob Parr, an unfulfilled insurance claims adjustor in his cramped office, who needs to be something more, something greater.)
Takeaway tip: When choosing a setting for the scene’s events, look at what is going to happen, and make a list of setting choices that can reveal something deeper about the characters involved. The setting should act as a symbol for one or more of the elements above, bringing forth deeper meaning and making characters and their desires matter more to readers.
It Offers Readers a New Experience
One of the big promises we make to readers is that we will take them on a journey that is somehow new and fresh. A way to achieve this is through setting choice. After all, do we really want to show them the same location they’ve read about a million times before? And while genre might influence the range of settings that one might expect to see, this shouldn’t hold a writer’s creativity hostage.
Take the typical party scene, a common sight in many contemporary Young Adult novels. This event doesn’t always have to be at the beach or in someone’s house while the parents are away. Why not have your teenagers sneak into a shutdown construction site or an empty warehouse that’s up for sale, instead? Add some beer, a few spray cans, and the unexpected appearance of a security guard with a stun gun, and you’ve got a unique setting primed for a storm of conflict, plus you’re offering readers something new to experience.
Takeaway Tip: If you start with the scene’s action, make a list of all the obvious places this exchange or event could take place. Then, branch out, thinking about locations that logically fit with your characters’ general location, but offer fresher setting options.
Now if you do find yourself using a familiar setting out of necessity, don’t worry. Just strive to make it unique through different factors. The time of day or night, the quality of light, the season, the weather, and the POV character’s emotional filter will all help you transform the location into something tailor made.
Not only do our two new Setting Thesaurus books have the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures of 225 locations to kick-start your imagination, you can find a list of both volumes’ settings at One Stop For Writers to mine for ideas, even if you are not a subscriber of the site.
Simply register (always free) and click on The Setting Thesaurus in the menu. If you are a subscriber, you can access all the entries in full. We’ve even added some new ones not in the books!
Do you think “outside the box” when it comes to setting? What are some of the more unusual locations you’ve chosen?