Creating Setting

Creating setting puts your reader right there, and makes the story real for them. In recent years, I think setting in fiction has become less elaborately described than in previous centuries when people did not have television, and words must create their vision and entertainment. Descriptions of setting in older novels might go on for paragraphs. Today, readers are less patient with such elaborate and lengthy description, but it remains important.

Choose your words wisely, pick words that say a lot in the shortest possible space. Think about what words really convey full, vivid meanings. Give a few details. For instance, does the house in your story merely have white walls? Or are they antiseptic white, off-white or cream? Are they freshly scrubbed, has someone put hand-down motifs across the top, or do they sport a host of fingerprints at waist level? More interesting yet, does your character glance up and see large footprints on the walls two feet above her head? Honing in on even a detail or two brings an added depth to your setting, in addition to telling something about your characters.

Use all 5 senses. If at all possible, experience your setting first hand, and if not, use the internet to find pictures and research. Use forums (nanowrimo is a great one) to ask questions of people who have experienced it. Travel forums, such as Travelpod are also great tools, where people blog about their travel experiences, in addition to posting pictures.

Writing about Shawn and Allene hiking the Highlands was one thing; being there myself and recording every detail was another altogether. After being there, I knew the sights of oak trees, sunlight glinting off veins of stones lying on the bottom of a stream, lichen-covered boulders, scrubby grass, shaggy Highland cattle with huge horns, and just how dark it is at night with no street or city lights; the sounds of sheep bleating nearby and the lowing of cattle carrying up the hill from a mile away; the smells of cow dung in the fields and coffee shops and fish and chips in the village below; and the metallic taste of the water from the streams and hot coffee and bridies after a long hike.

I learned what it was like to hike through heather and moorland, with my feet sometimes sinking down farther than I expected and clumps of heather at times reaching past my knees. It was not the flat and easy walk it appeared in pictures! I gained an appreciation for just how cold 60 degrees can be at the top of a Scottish monroe with a stiff wind blowing the whole time, what it’s like to climb in medieval boots, and just how much and for how long muscles ache when not accustomed to such activity!

When creating your own settings, list the five senses–sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste–and spend some time listing as many items in each category as you can, for each scene in your story. Don’t forget to write down what emotions the setting might provoke.

Research what you don’t know personally. Go there if at all possible!  You don’t necessarily need to use everything you list, but it will help bring the places to life in your own head, which will bring it to life on the page for your readers.

Happy writing!

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Creating Character

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