Writer’s Corner: Setting

by Rita Haney

The Best Place for a Setting

Every good story needs a setting to match, and typically the best and easiest place to put a setting is at the beginning of a chapter or scene change.

Who, What, Where, and When are basic questions to ask yourself. Who will be reading about this place? What do I want them to see? Where am I taking them? When are all the events taking place? These questions should all be answered by a good setting.

How to Build a Setting

Start off with a basic description of the scene’s background (Examples: An alley, a meadow, a city) and add to it. Think of as many descriptive words as possible that describe the setting you’re building and use them in order of strongest to weakest to create the clearest picture possible.

For example, the Arctic Circle. The character can describe the crunch of snow, the feel of flakes on her face.

Sometimes it helps to have a focal point to build around such as a character or an item important to the plot. Where would your character be? Where would this item be found.

For example, the Sword in the Stone. Where is the sword? In the stone. Build from there.

Setting according to Point of View (POV)

All POV’s have certain phrases they use to help build their settings.

First Person POV will use phrases like “I found myself in…” “I never got tired of the…” “This was my favorite place because…” and so on.

Second person point of view will use such phrases as “You’ve never seen anything like…” “You wouldn’t believe…” “You can’t imagine…” and so forth.

Third person point of view would use “There once was a place…” “In this…” “There was…”

Tips and Questions

In order to prevent yourself from dwelling too much on the setting description remember that you can use your characters to add sensory information later in the chapter. It helps to remind the reader where the character is.

Different genres require different amounts of setting descriptions. It helps to make lists of places and under each place try writing three strong adjectives that describe them. Next try writing a paragraph about the place using those three words. You can always add more later.

Advice from Other Members

If you do not want to start off a scene with setting, you can always add it in later. For example, the character might pause in the middle of action and look around.

One good tip for describing a place is to use two pieces of imagery: one visual and one non-visual. For example, in a bakery you might describe the sight of sprinkled cupcakes and the smell of vanilla buttercream.

A fair amount of setting can also be evoked from the dialogue. Ned Roderiguez recently wrote a place that took place in a bar. Setting was never mention, but the character’s conversations about the baseball game on TV and pouring drinks was enough to fill in the blanks.

Writing Exercise

There is a wonderful article by Kathy Steffen called “Creative Writing Prompts: Start with a Setting.” She provides a list of words and advices writers to pick one and start building your place. If a single word isn’t doing it for you, she invites you to try a myriad of combinations until inspiration strikes.

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