Monday, May 28, 2012

Writing Craft: Setting

Everybody’s gotta be somewhere!

When you are crafting a story, you need to put your characters somewhere.  You need to paint a verbal picture. If your reader can’t see it in their minds, they can’t go there. 

There are several aspects to a setting. When establishing your setting, ask the following questions:

  • Physical location
    • Is your setting inside or outside?
    • If it’s outside
      • What climate or season of the year is it?
      • City or country?
      • What type of terrain?
      • Is there a road? Is there traffic on the road?
    • If it’s inside, what kind of structure?
      • House? Barn? Shed? Office building? Boathouse? Beauty parlor? Grass hut?
      • Air conditioned or heated?
      • Climate in room sweaty? Stifling?
  • Year or Time Period
    • Today? 1944? 1,500 B.C.? Colonial America?
      • When your character lives will affect how he dresses, where he works, what he sees, his social status, his religion, his politics, and even how he thinks.
  • City and State
    • Even if you don’t come out and tell your readers the exact location, you must know where it is. This will help you decide how each character speaks, acts, and responds to the world around them.
    • A character living in Arizona may respond differently from that same character in Florida.
      • The Arizona character may feel like he is smothering in the dry, desert heat
      • The Florida character, on the other hand, may begin to sweat profusely, his underarms may chaff, he may want to pull off his shirt.
  • Miscellaneous notes
    • This is where you brainstorm and jot down anything you can think about that your characters may think, feel, and do in that setting.

Every time your character moves from inside to outside,
you have a change of setting.

Imagine you are watching a staged play. Your job is to make your reader experience everything your character experiences. 

  • Scene One is in the living room.
    • You see furniture for sitting, rugs, pictures on the walls, curtains, and so forth.
  • The curtain closes.
  • When it opens again, your actors are now sitting at a bench in the park.
    • You see trees, shrubbery, flowers, a sidewalk, and a park bench.

Don’t forget to include the senses.

If it’s warm inside the house and a blizzard is raging outside, what does your character FEEL?


  • Don’t tell your reader that Bill is cold.
    • When Bill stepped outside, he was cold.
  • Show your readers how cold it is. Let them experience the cold with Bill.
    • When he opened the door, an icy blast nearly blew his hat off. His numbed fingers fumbled to hold his hat as he struggled with the door. His breath condensed and threatened to freeze on his moustache.
Writing Tip:
Before you begin writing your novel, set up a template with various aspects of describing a setting. copy and paste this outline on your page. repeat the blank outline as many times as you think you will have scene changes.  As you are brainstorming your story, fill in the blanks for each scene. It's easy to add more as needed.  When you begin writing, keep this sheet handy so you can refer back to it often.  You will find that it affects your overall story in positive ways.
Name of setting:
  • Characters living in region/time period:
  • Year or Time Period:
  • Season:
  • City & State:
  • Miscellaneous Notes:

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