Monday, October 31, 2011

Technical Topics -- Setting

Whether our story takes place in the trackless jungle, on the third moon of Jupiter, or aboard a fishing boat off Haiti, it's always there. Setting. The, 'where the devil are we?'

Setting gives the characters something to stand on. It keeps everybody from floating around in a formless white void.

Good setting is the polar opposite of that void. It has physical dimensions the characters can waltz around in. It's full of color, smell, sound and texture. It has a certain underlying reality, which is why it helps to know something about the place you're describing.

Good setting changes while we're looking at it and it changes one scene to the next. We go inside, if we've just spent time outdoors. Quiet after frenetic. Safe after danger. Bright after dark. Crowded after solitude. Shiny and mechanical after pastel and pastoral.

Good setting is a stuffed-full-of-possibility place that's interesting even after your characters walk off the set. A pair of boots left by the door says somebody will go out to milk the cows in a bit. A cleaning rag, stuffed hastily in a pocket, tells us the woman who answers the door has been dusting. The bicycle leaning outside a shop says someone has stopped in to buy milk. Good scene ties us to the wider fictive world. It holds the loose ends of of unrelated stories. It has a before and after that continue when the scene is done.

All this drama, color, and contrast keeps the reader from nodding off in the middle of Chapter Six, which is one of those writerly goals we have.

For the rest of this posting, go to 'The Other Side of the Story,:  Here


  1. Eek! Every time I see your technical posts, Jo, I have this mad impulse to dash over to the MS and check it all over. Am I holding up the loose ends of unrelated stories? Is my setting interesting sans characters? Will readers nod off in Chapter Six?
    When does one stop worrying?

  2. Never stop worrying. It keeps us young.

    Y'know . . . I say all this, but it doesn't necessarily mean I know what I'm talking about.

    I do like a good rich setting though.