Lessons from a writer: Creating ‘setting’
Setting is more important in your novel than you might think. Setting brings your reader into your story. It allows them to engage their imaginations and dive into a world or be a part of a plot that doesn’t exist. You’re asking someone to walk into another life. Make it feel real. Setting helps you do this.
We have a group panel of writers who have shared how they write setting, but here are a few things to get you started:
- Consider your senses. Not every sense is needed in a scene, but some will show a scene better than others. A bakery might only need sight and smell. A fight scene needs sight and touch. Romance needs more touch and, if you want to choose one of the argued sixth senses, chemistry or emotional direction. What senses need the most power in a scene? Use them, but don’t limit yourself to them. Just give yourself a foundation and build from it.
- Interact with the scene. Setting is only real if the character(s) exist within it. Otherwise, you’re describing a painting. The senses help with this, but dialogue, internal dialogue, and specific actions apply here. Don’t make someone’s heart race just because you need an action, though. Otherwise, that character is overdue for some kind of heart attack or something. What would you do? What does your mother/father/sibling/significant other/best friend/etc. do? Pay attention to emotions and reactions so you can write them.
- Read aloud. Setting can sound poetic or realistic. Poetic settings are usually surreal. Waterfalls, for example, aren’t commonly peaceful places. There’s rough water spray and loud crashing, and it can be quite dangerous to be around because of the current beneath it and the power of the falling water. If your character is around the falls and it’s described as this beautiful thing, you might be missing a piece there, depending on the type of waterfall, of course. Anyway, read aloud and consider how the setting sounds, how you see it as a reader. If you can, get someone else to read it.
I’ll write an article on this one day because there’s so much more to this, but I’ll let the group panel touch on a few things. 🙂
How do you create setting in your writing?
I create setting by considering the five senses. What sort of things do the characters see around them? Trees, oceans, snow, flowers, buildings, huts, etc. That can help set up the topography, show whether it’s rural or urban, and even hint to the season. What do the characters smell? Pine, flowers, factory emissions, salt, etc. That can help narrow down the location even further and bring some depth to the setting. What do the characters taste? The food and drink they consume can add to the culture and time period. What do they hear? Cars, machinery, birds, crowds, etc. What do they touch? This one goes even deeper, including their clothing, tools, toys, technology, etc. Any way a character interacts can help show the setting. -Crystal MM Burton
My favorite way to create setting in a story is to have the reader see the world through the character’s eyes. For instance, they might point out a flower they like or a patch of dirt they always trip over. Little things that both give the reader an idea of what the world around them looks like as well as quirks of the characters themselves. -Kayla Krantz
Generally, I don’t specify a setting and if so, it’s some vague far flung future or past after armageddon so at that point the setting really is up in the air and I can do pretty much whatever I want. -Jack Pewitt
I bring the setting along gradually. Short descriptions in narration and dialogue. Too much at once tends to bore me as a reader. -Rob Cooke
I create setting by having the characters slowly drop small details about the world. For instance, in the line “I was accustomed to burning buildings, but watching my own city perish took some getting used to.” This implies that war is frequent in their land, and that the character has a lot of battle experience, meaning it’s been going on for a while. It also says that they’re in his city and it’s under attack. -Tim Munnerlyn
Usually through character interaction. It’s actually one of my weaker points as a writer and something I’ve been trying to work on, because I rely a lot on character interactions. That’s the easiest way to set it up for me: have the characters look around and anchor them to their environment through subtle hints. -Lina Duarte-Aristizabal
Want to know more about this week’s panel?
I am a stay-at-home mother and wife who spends my free time baking, crafting, and fangirling. I work from home as an author and freelance editor, and I insist my positive outlook has gotten me to where I am today.
Sara’s Swamp Blues is Rob Cooke’s second novel. Cooke is divorced with three teenage children. He does play banjo, guitar, and harmonica.
I’m a horror and thriller writer inspired by Stephen King with a liking for things dark and macabre. My obsession with 80s music and movies leads me to believe I was born in the wrong generation. Almost always lost in the world of books.
I currently write mostly fanfiction for fun. That being said, I love making others laugh and seem to have a knack for parodies. I wouldn’t say that I’m a professional writer, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.
I’m a fantasy, adventure, and horror writer from Texas. I’ve been a member of Authors’ Tale for roughly a year. I have a background in design and a passion for classical art.