Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writing Tip (9): Setting


Setting

In THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, Noah Lukeman speaks about how often setting is neglected. Neglecting setting = BAD! If you use setting to your advantage it can add a whole new dimension, almost like the setting itself has become another character.

He gives the following example:

"Take a father and son, for example, having a casual conversation in their living room. Change that setting to a prison, the father and son having the same casual conversation on either side of a plastic divider. It's the same conversation, but it's not. There is suddenly a layer of subtext, of immediacy, of tragedy -- and all without telling us a word. A writer's chief objective is always subtelty, to convey information without actually saying anything, and setting is one powerful way to do that."

~ pg 163, The First Five Pages, 2010 Edition


He offers a few solutions to help bring your settings to life:

  1. Tiny details. A stain on the carpet, a broken window pane
  2. Draw on all five senses. A room can reek of dead fish or rubbish or a corpse. We can feel the characters feet sinking into the mud as they trudge through the mire.
  3. Climate. A torrential downpour, a steam room, a blizzard. Or get even more drastic with earthquakes and tornadoes!
  4. Interaction with the setting. A mother involved with kitchen chores as she chats to someone, a man struggling for his life in a boat in the midst of a storm.
  5. Use details to make an impression. A setting can be well described by saying, "It was a small dark room, poorly lit and airless", but better described by adding, "It was oppressive, like a tomb."

~ page 165 - 167 (paraphrased), The First Five Pages, 2010 Edition

This book has a lot of great advice, including examples of good and bad writing, possible solutions, and exercises at the end of each chapter. You should check it out if you haven't already got it!















25 comments:

dr3am3r said...

mmmm. thanks for this reminder. i think i sometimes forget how important setting is as I try to improve so much more on my characters.

David Powers King said...

This is excellent, Rachel. I just posted about this topic on my blog. Great minds think alike, apparently. Hopped over from Abby's blog :)

Diana said...

Good blog. I agree totally.

Happily Cheesy said...

Very nice. I think I might add that one to my library. We should definitely have the subtext of mood present in every aspect, especially the setting.

Nas Dean said...

Thanks for the lovely post!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Thanks for the reminder. I often make this mistake. I'll take another look at my ms and see where I can incorporate these ideas.

tangynt said...

It can be hard to find that perfect balance between not enough detail and too much detail. Just enough detail is a fine line.

Trisha Leaver said...

Fellow crusader just now working my way over here now. Great post BTW. The fine line between just enough and too much detail is a hard one to navigate sometimes.

The Golden Eagle said...

I need to work on setting--so thank you for this post!

Carole Anne Carr said...

Interesting, I either don't put enough detail in or tend to include too much...

Jenn said...

I'll have to check out that book. Thanks for the reminder Rachel, I tend to neglect setting and focus more on character and plot. I shall strive to remedy that.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It sounds like a book full of great advice. I just blogged about where to start and your post gave even more detail.

Emy Shin said...

These are really, really good advice, Rachel. I'm definitely noting them down. Thank you!

Kari Marie said...

I loved that fifth example. The first sentence was descriptive but the second was tight and well scripted. Less words meant more. Thanks. This sounds like a great book.

Colene Murphy said...

Wow! Awesome info! Thanks Rachel!

stickynotestories said...

I've been trying to use the small details and one of the senses other than sight in each scene, and my critters have been commenting that it really makes the setting come alive, so I agree that this book is awesome! Thanks for posting :)

The Sisterhood said...

This is so true. So many times we ignore setting and focus just on the action and characters. But setting is what makes a novel unique and sets the atmosphere and mood of the story. Great post!

Lorena

PS. I LOVE the design of your blog.

Michael Offutt said...

Or the same conversation in a pornography studio on the bed...that gives a sense of well...perverse...I know :P

Witless Exposition said...

Great tips! My writing craft TBR pile just got one book longer. Thanks for telling us about the book.

walk2write said...

Hmm. You've given me something to think about. I reckon the best stories are the ones where the setting exploits the characters: Call of the Wild, Old Man and the Sea, Of Mice and Men, Wuthering Heights... I think Mr. Lukeman may be onto something here. But what about the social or political aspects of the setting? Very important stuff for authors serious about their craft.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for the info. When I write first drafts, I tend to leave out setting and it looks more like a skeleton. When I edit, it's the first layer I add. Great to remind us about the 5 senses. Scent is too often forgotten.

Lynda R Young said...

I'm a fan of interesting settings skillfully incorporated into the story. Great post.

Lisa Nowak said...

Oooh, great advice.

J.L. Campbell said...

Really good tips. Sounds like a good book indeed.

Abby Stevens said...

Hi Rachel! I am here via your comment on Jennifer Hillier's blog about discovering your genre through TWILIGHT. I discovered YA through TWILIGHT as well and thought I'd check out your blog since we have that in common. :)

I love THE FIRST 5 PAGES. When I was first learning the business, this helped me immensely. I still return to it occasionally. Never hurts to brush back up on the building blocks of good writing.