Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Teaser: Create a Setting That's "In Character":Part Two

Last week I talked about using all five senses in your setting, and how that can add to your overall scene. But what else is important in creating a setting for your characters?

The first thing to think about is where the major part of your story takes place. Is it in a fictional town, fantasy world, alien planet? Is it in the desert or a forest or the middle of a city?  When you know where it takes place, then answer this question: is it possible for it to take place somewhere else?

Before you answer THAT question, think about your Main Character's relationship to the setting: is this a place where she grew up or someplace that she relocated to; is it a place she loves or fears or perhaps just takes for granted; is she familiar with it, or does it seem strange or alien to her; if you take her out of this setting and put her somewhere else, will the story still work? Sometimes we need to know more about our main characters before we decide where to set the story. It usually doesn't work to decide upon a place where we want to set the story, and then go back and work our characters into it.

Now you've decided definitely upon the place for your setting. How do you bring it to life? Think about this: you're on vacation. You've gone to wonderful little fishing village on the coast of France that you've longed to visit. What are your feelings when you get there? What sensory overload do you enjoy...the piquant odor of freshly caught fish on open tables, the taste of ocean salt upon your lips, the rough texture of the cobblestone streets beneath your feet, the deep blue of the sea, dotted heavily by the white sails of fishing boats, and the hungry cries of circling sea birds overhead? 

What emotions are you experiencing during your visit? How do you react to the people, the language? Are you familiar with them, or is everything so new that it either intrigues you or frightens you? This is what brings this village to life for you, and these same elements should bring the setting to life for your characters.

And remember, how your MC reacts to the setting she's in, the emotions she feels, the way she might describe what she sees or hears or feels will not be the same for your other characters. Just as we all act and react differently to all issues in our lives, including those that are specific to the setting we're in, so will your characters act, interact, and react differently.

When you're describing your setting, don't think you have to suddenly become a travel writer, and describe every house, tree, or flower in minute detail. What you want to do is bring your setting to life through your characters, especially your main character. For example, my historical novel is set in pre-Civil War Kentucky. Because it is historical, all of the physical facts ( geography, weather, kinds of housing, clothing, etc. ) have to be accurately portrayed, but there is more to bringing a setting to life than those factors. I've included parts of speech, expressions and colloquialisms, that were used during those times; what kind of family discussions were appropriate for that era; how my MC interacted with his father, which is much different than the way kids interact with parents today; what kinds of inner conflicts my MC had because of where he was, his own beliefs, and the beliefs and conventions of the institution of slavery.

These factors, and more, all add to the historical accuracy of that era, but more importantly, bring the setting of slavery on a plantation to life through the emotions, actions, interactions, and reactions of my MC with his environment...i.e..the setting of the novel.

Your setting does not have to be that of an historical novel. No matter what time era it is, no matter whether it is a contemporary setting in today's world, or a fantasy setting in a never-never land, you still need to bring that setting to life. You  need to make good use of the five senses; you need to have a great descriptive narrative; most of all, you need to develop a strong 'sense of place' through your characters, and how each feels about and reacts to that setting. Each one will be different, and each of those differences will bring your setting to life in such a way as to make your readers believe they are a part of it.

Have fun with it, enjoy it, make it come alive, and your setting will become its own  character in your novel.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Great post, Mikki! You've got me thinking now. I think I need to give some more attention to the setting in my current project. Thanks for helping me realize this!

  2. Hey Mikki, I saw a post at Children's Writer's Retreat that you made about a year or more ago. Well... Knowonder! is back! go here and submit your work and encourage others to do so too! Spread the word! knowonder.com