Literature Basics Week
Along with characters and plot, setting is one of the most important choices we make when we write. In the most basic terms, setting is where your literary work takes place. It's up to you, as the author, to use it and mold it to fit the needs of your writing, make it more than just a backdrop to your prose or poetry.
A good setting becomes like a character itself. It can be express moods, offer comfort or hindrance. The setting can even be the main antagonist - consider the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining
, or the island in the 2000 Tom Hanks' film, Cast Away
. In both of these examples, the protagonist(s) have to survive their surroundings, one mundane, the other ... less so.
Make Your Setting Work For You
Everything in your written work must be chosen for maximum effect. When deciding on your setting, decide what you want to accomplish with it. Here are some possibilities.Emphasize the Mood
Imagine your main character has just learned of her husband's murder. She stumbles from her house, into the back alley and collapses, surrounded by discarded filth and vermin. A passing garbage truck drowns out her sobs. This setting emphasizes the character's solidarity and her loss.
Cheerful moods can be expressed with clear, blue skies or flower-filled meadows. Suspense and horror tend to use dark, lonely settings. The 2002 horror film The Ring
used constant rain for its ambiance. Occasionally, in comics and movies, the writers will use a limited color scheme to emphasize the mood. Decide which emotions you wish to convey and pick settings that best encompass them.
You can also choose specific moments to emphasize. Many climatic scenes in movies and TV occur during thunderstorms. While writing, you can whip up a windstorm or power outage as needed to create the perfect atmosphere.Contrast the Mood
Take our first example, but instead place the wife at a playground. Children chase one another and run about, laughing, when she receives a phone call with the tragic news. Squeals of joy drown out her sobs. How does the different scenario change the impact of the scene?
Some other possibilities include a gunshot at a wedding or characters giggling during a funeral. These scenes stand out, they catch our attention, because of their contrast from what we've come to expect. From the popular Hunger Games
books and movies, the Capitol (its flamboyant citizens and customs) offers a constant contrast to the protagonists' despair.As a Metaphor
A character has an epiphany and, behind him, the sun breaks free from the clouds. Another character hears that, after many years apart, her love is returning home from war. Birds burst forth into the sky, singing.
In these (admittedly heavy-handed) scenarios, the settings carry extra meaning besides the character's surroundings. Subtle use of this technique can add layers to your work. If you choose to employ this, be sure to avoid clichés, as they appear trite and elicit bored eyerolls from your readers.For Your Character to Interact With
Above, I mentioned Stephen King's The Shining
and the Tom Hanks' film Cast Away
as examples. The young adult novel, Hatchet
by Gary Paulsen, has a young man surviving, lost and alone in a wilderness. In the 2009 film, 2012
, the entire world becomes the adversary. In all of these examples, the setting is the main antagonist. It provides obstacles for the protagonist(s) to overcome. There is an entire survival/natural disaster genre in which the setting is the main antagonist.
The setting can also interact with characters in a more pleasant or beneficial fashion, or as their safe haven. Consider your own memories. Are there certain places that elicit "warm fuzzy" feelings from you? Your grandparents' house? A crisp spring morning, holding your favorite warm drink in hand? Your characters also have those "warm fuzzies" locations that they cherish, their own safe havens. It could be the local library, where he spend much of his youth, or the park bench where she had her first kiss. Those locales are there. Use them. Until the end of the film, Notre Dame was Quasimodo's safe haven in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
When he fled there, there is a sense of triumph that he had reached safety (until the antagonist chose to invade that safety as bad guys tend to do).
Economy of Words
When narrating your writing, remember not to spell out endless details, nor overdo the ones you include. Too many descriptors, no matter how well written, distract from your focus and bog down the writing. Details are necessary, but it's a fine balance between sparsity and verbosity. How much is too much? A lot depends on the genre. Readers expect more flowery details in romantic works, while in action/adventure fewer are necessary (however, this does not mean this genre does not need any
details!). Not only does the genre influence the amount of description desired, each individual will have their own tastes. One person's vivid details is another's purple prose.
Purple prose is overdone and flowery writing. Whenever a passage draws attention to itself and away from the story or poem, it is purple prose. Purple prose is not limited to settings. Character descriptions, dialogue, any part of a written work can be purple prose. It can be ornate and well-written or meander and leave the reader baffled. In either case, the reader becomes distracted from the main piece.
For more reading on purple prose, check out this link:theadvancededit.com/academic-w…
Other helpful articles:
Creating a New World
Please copy and paste this into a Word document or deviation. Then highlight the information after the colons and type over it.
Time/Era: Exact year or approximate time
Name of Country: For fun, you could alter the name of an old empire. For example, the Assyrian Empire (Mesopotamia, BC) was particularly brutal, so a twist off of that name could be interesting for more educated readers. Readers love to be in on jokes like that. Oh, and don't steal Asrian Empire. I already called it.
Geography: I recommend you draw a map (it doesn't have to be exact; it's for consistency)
Landscape: Trees, soil, water, buildings... Imagine you were flying over the place in an airplane. What would you see down below?
Housing: How big are the houses that the people live in, and what are they made of? If they're members of a migrant tribe, what do they use for shelter, and how do they transport their shelters? (If that last question is an issue, l
Writing Tips - Descriptionwritersrelief.com/blog/2011/05…www.novel-writing-help.com/sto…
Description: Balancing Too Much and Not Enough
Theres an old adage about writing that says, show, dont tell. But what does that actually mean? Surely, were not expected to illustrate our stories, are we? Christ, I hope not. Some of mine are rather long.
No. What that means is that you should use your words to paint a visual picture for the reader. Talking heads are both boring and confusing, and should generally be avoided. If youre unfamiliar with the term, talking heads refers to the phenomenon where all, or most of story is carried out through the characters dialogue. You see it like mad in web and news paper comics, but it happens in prose as well.
The first, and arguably the most fun way to banish the talking heads is to make your characters act. This doesnt mean action, necessarily. The character can do any amount of going from place to place or thing to thing, but so what? Hes still not rea
Your setting is one of the most vital aspects of any written work. It supports your characters and your plot, and can even take on the role of an auxiliary character itself. Decide what type of setting best suites your work and make the best use of it.
- Which author's or novel's settings have imparted the most lasting impression upon you and why?
- Share examples of settings in books, movies or television that emphasize or contrast the piece's mood, that are used as metaphors and/or examples of settings interacting with characters.
- Flex your literary muscles! In the comments below, write a brief scene, using one of the art pieces featured in this article. Please credit the piece that inspired you.
- Do you have any advice on writing settings? Please share!