This post has been generously written by Janice Hardy, author of the Middle Grade Novel, Blue Fire, book two in the Healing Wars Trilogy. To see her excellent method of using setting to enhance conflict, I highly recommend checking out Blue Fire.
Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, Nya risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke of Baseer from using them in his fiendish experiments. Nya soon realizes the only way to protect any of them is to flee their home city of Geveg. She finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.
Janice’s Entry Notes on Setting:
As a fantasy writer, setting is a critical part of the story. In The Healing Wars trilogy, it also plays an important role because my protagonist’s city of Geveg is being occupied by the forces of their enemy, Baseer, and that occupation colors how my protagonist feels about things. Point of view is a great way to use setting details in that not only tells a reader what things look like, but how the protagonist sees them. Setting can help flesh out your characters as well as your world.
For this exercise, I’ve pulled details from the city of Geveg as well as the city of Baseer. Geveg is an island city with canals (very Venice-inspired), but set in a tropical climate. It’s a made up in a fantasy world, but hopefully the flavor of the city and its people comes through form the words I chose to illustrate it. The occupied nature should also be apparent. Baseer is a very different city. Much larger, crowded, bright and cheerful, even though my protagonist doesn’t see it as cheerful. To her, it’s the enemy’s domain, and her fear influences what she sees. The things she notices are things that she doesn’t see much (if at all) in Geveg, so they stand out to her. The military nature of Baseer should show in those details.
Geveg: Canals, water hyacinth, isles, palm trees, graceful stone bridges, wide streets, hibiscus, crocodiles, chickens, broken chicken coops, shimmering lake, water, reed sap, lak eweed, market crates, marsh farms, Healers’ League, spires, domes, arches, apprentices, Elders, wards, pain merchants, enchanters, Takers, Healers in green uniforms, dock, harbor, ferry, skiffs, fishing boats, ropes, nets, traps, lake gulls, mangoes, bananas, fishcakes, sandals, Sanctuary, copper gates, wrought iron fences, river rock walls, townhouses, villas, boardinghouses, weeds, refugees, night guards, soldiers, silver and blue uniforms, rapier, swords, knives, pynvium weapons, orphans.
Baseer: Gold stone walls, guard towers, military fort, ditches, barracks, soldiers, blue and silver uniforms, trackers, Undying, Takers, wide iron gates with guards, reward posters, narrow streets, vendor carts, too-bright tiles, colored window sills, colored fake shutters, tattoos, snakes, monkeys, cats, street pack, braids, beaded vests, garish patterns, boots, rugs, fountains, lizards, guinea fowl, marsh ducks, pears, aqueducts, plaza, foundry, palace, villas, aristocrat estates, jails, gallows, cheese-stuffed pastries.
Geveg: Waves sighing, hiss of reeds through the water, gulls calling, children crying, people whispering, soldiers shouting, boot stomps, clock tower chimes, singing, gates squeaking, boats thumping against the dock, racial slurs, whoomp (the sound of pynvium being flashed), shuffling feet, excited giggles, chicken squawks, stomach rumbling, clattered, thud, crack, moans, groans, thunder, rounds bell, nervous babble, creaky stairs, monkeys whooping.
Baseer: Vendor shouts, stomping boots, too many people talking, children laughing, roar of the furnace, clang of swords, gurgle, bones snapping, forge hammering, rhythmic clanging, sandals slapping on brick, snapping fingers, chirps, squawks, whimpers, breath whooshing out, hissing through teeth, hollered high, alarm bells, hacked a wet cough, urgent knocks, banging, door click shut, scraping, breaths quickened, wood chunks skipped down the stairs, snicker, canvas flapping.
Geveg: Lake violets, white ginger, cinnamon, smoke, fish, fish stew, coffee, honeysuckle, rain, fried perch, bilge, urine, damp face powder, chicken poop, bitter metallic odor, smelled like a forge, spices, jasmine, burnt wood, smoke.
Baseer: Fish stink and mold, metal, fire and smoke, smoked meat, sweat and heat.
Geveg: Bitter tang, bile, juicy mango.
Baseer: Cheesy fruit filling, stale water, sweet and cool.
Geveg: Humid air, soft breeze, hunger, fear, wariness, throbbing, knuckle burn, joint pain, tingling like blown sand, rough stone, smooth marble, warm brick, prickling, tingly hot, cool water, straw bristles, shivering feet.
Baseer: Sharp corners, rough brick, warm water, cold bars, prickly rope, needle pricks, heavy air, quivering guts, misting rain.
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
I kept moving, deeper into the noise and mess. The buildings were five—no six—stories tall. The top floors had short balconies, but the lower floors didn’t—not that I had the strength to climb onto one anyway. I saw no alleys. Buildings butted up against each other and the street seemed to go on for miles. It felt like the entire city was crashing down on top of me.
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
The sun-lit glade was an invitation to my weary body, the grass thick as a rug and softer than any bed I’d slept in for a long time.
Example 2: (Metaphor)
Alex stepped forward and held his arm out across the walk, a moving rendition of the trees growing inside the palace: tall, wide, brown, with a mess of gold on top.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.