One of the most important elements of a story is the setting. The setting answers the following questions for the reader:
- Where is the story taking place?
- What day is it?
- What time of day / night is it?
- What is the weather like?
- et cetera, et cetera
In other words, the setting details the “historical” moment in time and place your story is established. The setting ties tightly together and supports all other story elements, such as plot, character, and theme.
The catalysts for settings are infinite. Some milieus that are most common in literature are:
- Parallel Universe
- Mythical / Fantasy World
- Simulated / Virtual Reality
- Alternate History
The element of setting allows the reader to “picture” the story within his or her mind. In defining your story’s setting, there are a few points to remember:
1. Utilize the Senses – Use all 5 human senses when writing a setting
- Keep in mind that as humans, we experience the world with all of our senses
- Do not limit the description of a setting just to sight
- Evoke the senses of taste, touch, smell, and hearing
- Experiment with a sixth sense, such as a gut-feeling or intuition, for your character to experience in regard to the setting
2. Don’t tell; Describe – Describe the setting using the 5 (or 6) senses
- Check out one of my older Sarcastic Muse posts on this very topic, This is not show and tell
- Give your reader descriptions of the setting – don’t tell them what they should be imagining
- Allow your reader to use his or her own imagination to experience the setting in his or her mind
3. Don’t Ramble – Be concise with your writing
- Be concise with your words
- Get directly to the point with enough description that the reader can envision the setting within a second or two
- If you feel like your descriptions are droning on and on… they are
Which leads me to….
4. Give enough detail, but don’t go overboard
- As much as I love Faulkner, he tends to go on and on with his descriptions that my brain shuts down. Its description overload!
- Too many details will kill a reader with boredom or a fried brain – whichever comes first
- Again, just be concise: use as few of words as needed to get your point across
Good settings make or break a story. Think of settings as the foundation of the book in which all of the elements are built upon. If you do not have a good setting, the other pieces of your story will crumble from the lack of a supporting base. All your story bits will be left to float around in an empty space because they are not solidly rooted in a firm setting. Your reader will lose focus and then interest because your story is not tight and its elements are not stable.
However, if you are into Sci-fi maybe you want your elements to be floating unrestrained through space… hmm…some food for thought.