Entire books have been written about setting. I’ve sat in numerous presentations at writing conferences and listened to successful authors, writing teachers and other professionals share their expertise on setting. Sometimes when I do my little posts about different aspects of novel creation I feel a bit of a fraud. I’m far from expert and am only sharing my feelings on how I create my novels and what things I consider in doing so.
When writing a fantasy novel, setting can be a character all in itself. The author strives to bring a world to life in a way that is believable enough to be possible. At least believable enough for the reader to imagine living in that alien place.
The setting of a novel should add to the mood or tone of the story. Is there a seasonal element? Is the weather as dark and brooding as the main character? Is the world cold and bleak? A few choice details about the weather or the landscape infer a serious, tense plot. Or does the description of the surroundings suggest a light, frivolous tone?
Weather isn’t the only factor to use in designing an intriguing setting. How might the interior of a character’s home lead the reader to understanding the character of the protagonist? Are the furnishings brand new, gleaming with lemon polish, or are they dusty antiques, mismatched and nonfunctional?
Don’t forget to use sensory description and a variety of it in setting. We experience the world through more than sight and hearing. Is there a taste in the air? Perhaps of burning stone and a smell of decay. Touch can evoke many emotions from the reader. Most people cringe when reminded of the sensation of a spider discovered crawling on the back of their hand. And don’t forget to vary the senses used in description.
When I read a book that pulls me into its world, I try and analyze what the author has done with setting to interest me. I carry a journal to jot down a descriptive word or verb I might want to use sometime. I especially like the settings that serve to foreshadow the story’s climax or the building of suspense.
Good writing is not entirely dependent on the setting but every successful novel uses the tool of a finely crafted time and place to complete their book.
How important is setting in your writing? Do you give it equal attention to character development? Has any novel captured your interest because of its clever setting?