Showing posts with label Writing setting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing setting. Show all posts

Setting: It's Not Just Background

Winter Landscape, Photo by Linda Wilson

Creating a setting for your story is easy, right? According to Taylor, a member of the Men with Pens team, in his article, "Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating a Setting," creating a setting is easier than creating a character. I agree. But, giving your setting authenticity and weaving it into the action through insights of your POV character requires special consideration.

The setting helps make your character come alive. Mere description won't achieve this. According to the article, "Author's Craft--Narrative Elements: Setting," on the Universal Design for Learning website, "Setting is not just factual information, but an essential part of a story's mood and emotional input. Careful portrayal of setting can convey meaning through interaction with the characters and the plot."

What is the mood of your story? Romantic? Mysterious? Humorous? Your opening needs to establish what type of story it is and stick with the mood throughout the book. Your reader will then be prepared to laugh, cry, seek adventure, etc., and will be emotionally engaged to continue reading. In her book, Writing for Children & Teenagers, Lee Wyndam writes "All story effects must be preplanned for that overall effect you want. Nothing can be left to chance, not even the weather."

Three Types of Setting
  • A Real Setting: The setting is in a place that can be found on a map, with the buildings, streets, stores, etc. intact. The time is close to the present. The best part is that nothing has to be made up. The tricky part is that you must be accurate. Taylor suggests picking a place you know well, especially if you've actually lived there awhile.
  • A Setting Created from the Real World: The setting is made up but fashioned from the real world. A Bed & Breakfast is the setting for one of my stories, a place down the street from where I lived for five years. My first visit there actually gave me the idea for my book. After moving away I stayed there during a visit while working on my book in order to experience it. Yet despite the area's familiarity, I still researched the kinds of trees, plants, wildlife, weather, etc., to make the setting as accurate as possible.
  • A Fantasy Setting: The creation of a make-believe world is not simply imagining how it looks and feels. It also needs to have a history. The danger with this type of setting is to be careful not to get lost in this new world you've created, but to stick to your plot and how your characters relate to their world.
Creating a Setting that Works
Utmost is creating a setting so vivid that your readers feel immersed in it. At the beginning of each chapter, provide brief information of the time and place to help ground your reader; use descriptive language, invoke the senses and any other sensations you can think of.

In the following excerpt from The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, Cormier reveals a great deal about his character Jerry's present situation with Jerry's observations of his surroundings:

Out at the bus stop, Jerry leaned against a telephone pole, body weary, echoing the assault of the football practices. For three days his body had absorbed punishment. But he was still on the roster, luckily. Idly, he watched the people in the Common across the street. He saw them every day. They were not part of the scenery like the Civil War Cannon and the World War Monuments, the flagpole. Hippies. Flower Children. Street People. Drifters. Drop-Outs.. . . [He]  . . . sometimes envied their old clothes, their sloppiness, the way they didn't seem to give a damn about anything. Trinity was one of the last schools to retain a dress code--shirt and tie. He watched a cloud of smoke swirl around a girl in a floppy hat. Grass? He didn't know. A lot of things he didn't know.

In one paragraph, the reader learns that Jerry:
  • Goes to high school and is a football player.
  • Is sore from three days of practice, implying that football season just started, a subtle way to place the story in early fall.
  • Feels like a marginal player on the team, feeling lucky that he's still made the roster.
  • Recognizes traits in the people he observes in the Common, contrasts them with people the war memorials there represent, but is impressed that these people don't have to follow a dress code like he does. But, he recognizes that he has a lot to learn.
While creating your setting ask yourself  these questions:
  • Where is it?   At the bus stop near a park.
  • When is it?    After school.
  • What is the weather like?  Probably a warm day in the fall.
  • What are the social conditions?  Jerry wishes he could be as carefree as the "hippies" he observes lounging in the Common, but he has to wear a uniform to school. He's never smoked pot before.
  • What is the landscape or environment like? His bus most likely picks him up from the center of town. 
  • What special details make the setting vivid? The names hippies, flower children, street people drifters, all conjure up a picture of what these people look like. The park holds war memorials, which show a well organized and thoughtful town. Pot smoking contrasts with Jerry, who seems straight-laced in his school uniform, and how different the street people are from the people who fought in the wars.     
More Tips on Creating Setting
  • Wherever you go, take "setting notes." Note unusual details, how each of your senses is affected, and "record textures and small 'markers.'" (Jan Fields, my first writing instructor during a short story course at the Institute of Children's Literature, W. Redding, Connecticut.)
  • Setting can include geographical location, historical era, social conditions, weather, immediate surroundings and time of day. Often an overall setting is established in the beginning of a novel and then within it, scenes occur in different specific places (at the inn itself, at Abi's new friend's house). (Taylor from the Men with Pens article mentions J.R.R. Tolkien's and Ursula LeGuin's novels, such as A Wizard of Earthsea, as masters of "making up whole new worlds.")
  • At there is a terrific list of fictional towns, villages and cities, separated by categories such as comics, films, television, etc.
  • In a Children's Writer article by Veda Boyd Jones, Christopher Paul Curtis's Newbery Medal Award winner, Bud, Not Buddy, is mentioned because Jones uses this book as an example: "What makes a setting work is its full development." Jones also discusses the importance of the fictional name of a place, and points out author Vicki Grove's novel, The Starplace. "The place Grove created, Quiver, Oklahoma, is not real. The name, meant to be literal and ironic, is also a function of setting. Quiver is an Indian word and a description of some of the fear-ruled people in the town."
  • A helpful article, "The Fundamental Elements of Setting," can be found at, by Courtney Carpenter.
Setting can not only be a subtle way to bring out your character's personality and motives, it can also be challenging and fun to create. The part I enjoy the most is immersing myself in places I love even after I've left, and learning things about them that I didn't know while living or visiting there. Your love of "place" will shine through, too, and can be an effective way to make your character come alive.

Sources:; Please note that the self-check idea came from this UDL article.

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for adults and children and six short stories for children. Recently she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on  Facebook.

Writing Abundance!

So much written about the fact there are only 7 stories or themes for writers to work with.

1. Man against man
2. Man against nature
3. Man against himself
4. Man against God
5. Man against society
6. Man caught in the middle
7. Man and woman
                        Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

While there may only be 7 stories or themes, there is an abundance of ways to tell your story.

1. Characters: Create full-bodied characters. This means that while they may be handsome or pretty they could also have a mean streak. Or perhaps they are plain and have a deep reservoir of knowledge or compassion that makes them beautiful. Are they missing a limb, a moral high ground, or an education?

2. Word Choice: Surprise your reader each page. Work to use a little known or used word. Engage your readers. Word choice is the perfect way in which to do that. I find that reading my work out loud showcases the monotony of words and also the monotony of sounds used. Play with language and create something that stands out among the rest. As Ernest Hemingway said, "Use vigorous English."

3. Setting: Create your setting as you would a character. Give it depth. Give it a major role in the story. Work to incorporate your setting over and over again so that your reader never forgets where they are. Keep them grounded. As with all things in life, we each perceive a setting differently. The Wyoming mountains can be majestic or intimidating. The prairie vast or empty. Let your reader know how your character views their landscape in a way that opens your reader's eyes to a new way of thinking.

4.  Sentence structure: Find ways to use sentence structure to enhance your story. Vary lengths - long and short sentences. Vary paragraph length too. Use sentences in a way that they bind the reader to the story. Short sentences can increase anxiety - showcase action. Long sentences can create deep feelings.

Tell a story so that your reader never wants to leave it. Tell a story that engages, wraps your reader's emotions into a ball, pulls them inside out and makes them feel something - anger, fear, strength, love, hope, or promise.

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Serieswas written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole, and Perception.The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

You can also follower her at or on Facebook.

A Setting to Remember

I love an unforgettable setting. Whether I'm experiencing it, writing it or even reading about one, a good setting can create an unforgettable image that will stay with me long after. The challenge is how to write a great setting? First of all, like all great writing, it's a must to remember to use your five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and probably most important for setting, smell.

Setting is everything that places your reader: you need to let your reader know when the action is occurring - time of day, time of year, and era. That's not all, your reader also needs to know where in the world, or out of this world, your scene is taking place? Finally, also consider the weather as part of your setting.

Just like everything in your writing, your setting must serve a purpose. The setting either needs to work with your plot, work to create your character, or both.

"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it," Chekhov famously said. In my novel, Rocky's Mountains, the characters are camping in the forest. When a tornado rips through the valley, they are left trapped. 

"We crawled along the edge of the rock face with branches and limbs whipping above us. Frequently Rocky would stop and I could tell he was searching for a way up and out of our tree-tunnel. The world clawed at our clothes and everything smelled of Christmas and death—pine trees and mold. Some of the needles stabbed at me, poked into my skin and were left to hang there—no time to pull them out. We struggled through mud and water. . ." Later they see trees scattered like "toothpicks" and taste blood from their injuries.

Setting can also be used to create a character. Alma's restaurant in Rocky's Mountains is a small Wyoming diner, named after the owner's greatest love - his horse. 

"A cowbell clanged as I opened the door of Alma’s cafĂ© and the intoxicating aroma of old-fashioned grilled hamburgers, homemade French fries and coffee surrounded me. According to the engraved sign over the door, the dive served food and spirits. From the stuffed two headed calf sitting high on a shelf, to the brands burned into the wood plank tables, the diner practically exuded the essence of the old west." 

After your first introduction you learn of the smell of the green stuff that comes in on the boots of the ranchers and it reminds you who frequents the place. You hear the gruffness of the owner's voice as he asks for your order. You see him spit tobacco. You know the characters belong.  

When creating a setting, work to define the space and place in such a way that your reader knows why it's mentioned.

Exercise: write about a room, restaurant, outdoor area or other place you know well. Now rewrite the setting creating an atmosphere of romance or mystery. Finally, take two completely different characters and put each of them in the space. How does each of these changes affect your setting? Give your reader not just a great story, but also a place to remember.

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction. She loves to tell stories of personal growth where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is the author of Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception, her latest book dealing with the subject of death and the afterlife. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

Her novels are available in electronic format here, or print format here
You can also follower her at or on Facebook
Or you can just contact her at

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