Setting As Character!

“When it comes to scene-setting and all sorts of description, a meal is as good as a feast.”  Stephen King

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Getting your location, time and ambiance right is one of the first things a writer establishes when he/she begins a story, book or poem.  Everything; character, plot, action takes place in context with the setting.  Setting is more than a place. Through the careful use of sensory details, the setting includes establishing a strong sense of time and place, local color, culture and mood (psychological and/or emotional.)

In addition, establishing setting includes cultural perceptions and historical and political attitudes. As a writer, you and your characters have to be true to setting. Setting is not the time to bow to revisionist history or practice politically correct language and platitudes.

In her book, WRITING FROM THE HEART, Leslea Newman explains, “Every story happens somewhere. A strong sense of place . . . is important because it grounds your characters.”

Donald Maass reminds us in his popular book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT  NOVEL, “Setting is context . . .you cannot ignore it.”

This is especially true in the Southern Gothic genre. A powerful sense of place, culture, and mood permeates the writing and is often a basic hallmark in the definition of Southern Gothic. “How does your setting make people feel? Maass asks. Does it make your character or reader feel creepy, happy, fearful, languid, enervated, nostalgic or angry? Would the characters in William Faulkner’s THE LONG HOT SUMMER  act and feel differently if the book was set in Nepal rather than Mississippi? Establishing the setting gives your characters and your story a backdrop against which they play out their particular set of circumstances.

Many successful writers agree that when it comes to writing powerful settings that stay indelibly marked in the minds of readers and that move the characters and story forward in a beautiful arc, the devil is in the details.  YOUR DETAILS.  When you create setting , your details must be specific and sensory, but like the use of spices in good cooking-used sparingly. No one makes that point better than fiction master, Stephen King in his book,  ON WRITING, King cautions: “When it comes to scene-setting and all sorts of description, a meal is as good as a feast.”

Whether you write about Arizona, Montana, or the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, getting your setting right is crucial to your story’s success.


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