Thursday, June 12, 2014

Writing 101: The Setting is the Story

During Sex and the City, cast members and writers called New York "the fifth lady." The city was such an integral part of the story, it was even in the title. Here's what some authors don't get: the setting is the story, no matter where you're at. You should always be putting your setting to work...a lot.

Where You At?

The setting is the backbone of your story, and much more. It's the place where your characters live and interact. It's filled with the locations they visit and the stuff they see. In the best books, the setting truly comes alive. The reader ought to feel as though they're in the setting with your characters.

There's only one way for you as the author to do that: write the setting well. Make it such a strong part of the story that it becomes the story. Setting is everything, because it's the world around your characters. 

The Hunger Games. Twilight. Setting plays such a strong part in these stories, it dictates just about everything. How can you write a strong setting for your stories? 

  • Research it: Research the heck out of your setting. Use maps, study landmarks, find pictures online -- even if you are capable of visiting your own setting. You really can't learn too much. And if your setting is a fictional place, you can still introduce real elements to make it feel more likely. Study trees and plant life, animal life, to accurately create your world. 
  • Picture it: Use actual maps to help create your setting so you can get a real idea of distances and land area. Once again, you can do this even if you're creating a fake setting. Pick a real spot in the world that resembles your setting, and base your map off of that. You don't need a perfect map; no one expects you to turn into a graphic artist. But you do need a visual guide to help you write your story a little more accurately and realistically.
  • Work with it: Once you've established and researched your setting, interact with it. Show the characters out in it. Have them look at trees, walk across grass, shop in buildings and eat at restaurants -- whatever. Make the setting a character, too. This will make your entire world richer, fuller and more believable. And once a book can be all of that, it's a much better book. 
 The setting is the story, so use it well. You are a product of where you're from, and your characters should be as well. Aren't we all shaped by what's around us? Make sure what's around your characters feels real, too. This will create much better writing, stuff that others want to read. 

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  1. I a strong believer in the role one's setting has in a story. My suspense novel takes place in Bulgaria and I assume that most readers have never visited that country. I took care to highlight the unique beauty, culture, history, and even the food of Bulgaria in the story, while maintaining the suspense of the plot. Some readers say my novel is a combined travelogue and mystery novel. So be it! I can't read a book set in a foreign land without totally immersing myself in the country. Setting needs to be almost a character in a book!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ellis! The book sounds amazing.

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