Monday, November 30, 2009

Take Your Places, Everyone!

By Pamela

When I’m writing, I focus on the story—the characters and how they act and interact. I’m not always aware of my weaknesses, but thankfully, a helpful critique partner lets me know pretty quickly. Setting is not my strong suit, but at least I’m cognizant of it. Isn’t that the first step?

Hello, my name is Pamela, and I’m not the best at settings.

In The Novel Writer’s Toolkit, Bob Mayer defines setting as: the where and the when to your story. Points to consider, Bob suggests, are: weather, socioeconomic structure, seasons, architecture, etc.

Noah Lukeman cautions writers in chapter 18 of The First Five Pages about too much setting vs. too little. He also writes that authors typically get caught up in telling vs. showing when it comes to setting. Do you tell me that the carpet had a dark stain and the air smelled rancid or do you show your character picking at the dried food on the cushion and coughing as the cigar smoke burns his lungs?

Certainly, placing a story in a location you’ve never been to requires some research on your part. Miss a detail and someone is sure to call you on it. Plus, placing a story in the Bible Belt of the Deep South calls for different characters than one in The Big Apple.

Setting often plays a huge role in novels, with telling titles such as these: Big Stone Gap, At Home in Mitford, Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, House of Sand and Fog. And in some stories, the setting is a character. Cold Mountain, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Devil in the White City. So, where you set your story can hugely impact your writing.

A recent blog post helped me get a firmer hold on the setting in my WIP. EditTorrent suggested creating a settings list. With two full manuscripts under my belt, I have to confess, I’d never done this. So, stalled for moment in the middle of a chapter on my current story, I decided to write up my list. (To set this up, my story revolves around two main characters: a 42-year-old woman and her 17-year-old son. And the entire story takes place in North Texas, current day.)

Here’s my list:

The Howard home
The Howard’s back yard
Portraiture by Nella (photography studio)
Parkview Village (retirement home)
Presbyterian Hospital
The lake (does it need a name?)
Seth’s Jeep
Seth’s bedroom
Meagan’s bedroom
The cemetery

I’ve also made a more detailed list that describes each setting, which I’ll not share here. Now I don’t have to go back and reread my story to find the type of tree growing in the back yard, the color of Seth’s Jeep, the hangings on Meagan’s bedroom walls, and such. Not every detail will end up in the story because we may not need to know what type of flooring is in the entryway or the brand of appliances in the kitchen, but if I know, then I don’t risk making a mistake.

Now my characters can comfortably take their places. It’s up to me to make them come alive in their environment.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of making a settings list. It's like being a locations scout for a movie, finding the perfect place to film each scene. I'll do that next time!


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