The Depth of Setting

Weak Settings

When I became an instructor for writing schools (through correspondence) a few years ago, I brought many students and therefore read many manuscripts. I stayed with that position for more than nine years. Often, I find memorable characters with some delivery lessons, and sometimes I even find interesting plots. But many plots are very lacking in the third member of the basic series: arrangement.

The simple definition of settings is the background of your character to appear. The feeling of a place is very important for a novel. A successful novelist plays every aspect of the environment. The lack of a visual scene will leave your character and its actions and interactions suspended in an empty type of limbo.

Not Decoration

When talking about settings, I’m not referring to the flat description paragraph. Rather, this background must be more than just a show painted on a pane of scenery such as a stage play. Settings or background must be interwoven with your character and what they do at a certain time.

If you previously considered the arrangement just a “decoration” for your story, I challenge you to think again. I will challenge you to think of story settings like characters. This will require you to explore the depth of the place.

Awaken Reader Sensation

As you dive into the depths, create a way to arouse all the feelings of the reader in the description. What sounds and smells are common? What is the weather like? How do people talk? What foods do they like? If your novel is arranged in a rather strict setting, can you switch to using a flashback to another place and time?

Let this background come alive through your character’s thoughts, dialogue and actions. No matter how beautiful you are in describing a room, one season, one day or whatever, your readers tend to skip it to pick up the narrative thread. Let the reader go through the settings through the character’s experiences and reactions.

Consider Your Own Root

Think about how your own roots (where you grow up) color and influence who you are. Now apply it to your character. How do settings affect character and shape and shape his personality? Personally, I know a little about mountains, or beaches. (Sighs) I have spent most of my life in a landlocked Midwest. That is me.

In my novel Good-Bye Beedee (David C. Cook’s Quick Fox line), the main character Marcia has lived for thirteen years at the farm of his grandparents in Oklahoma. He rode most of those years. But then his father remarried (his mother had died many years before) and transferred him and his younger brother, Chuckie, to Kansas City. Their first home was an apartment that was too small.

Rural Oklahoma that is wide, wide open, dusty, IS Marcia. There he is. He lives and breathes horses. And horses and farms go together. Like a magnet, he was attracted to a hostel he placed in Kansas City. Can you imagine what the smell of the cage will do for young Marcia? Skin, straw, feed, horse meat, even manure. He loves everything. This is all part of the background – a deep background for the novel.

As Character Settings

My point here is that the arrangement is intrinsically intertwined in character. Nothing is painted. Or added to a drop of color. It builds the story and takes it. This setting is as real as character.

Do you have to know your settings directly to write about it? The answer is no, you don’t. Of course, the more research you can do, the more complete you write about it. Visit if possible. Stay for a while if possible. Read as much as possible to give you a clear background. Talk to the people who live there. Better yet, talk to people who have lived there for a long time.

Spark; Don’t Shovel

Even though you can never have too much factual information about your settings, you can indeed put too much into your story at once. Be careful avoiding shovels full of information just to impress the reader. Believe me, it will be skipped. (Or the book is placed not to be taken again.)

Did I say there would never be a paragraph that only painted pictures or set the stage? No, not at all. Make sure it’s an exception and not a rule in all novels. The key is to keep stirring up information, here a little, there’s a little.

Show, Don’t Say

Pull your readers directly to the scene by allowing the reader to “experience” the place rather than constantly telling it.

Take your favorite novel, written by your favorite writer and notice where the setting has been intertwined by dialogue, or the inner mind of the character, or directly through actions and character interactions. You will learn a lot from such exercises.