Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing Tips - How to Set Your Story

The definition of setting is "a backdrop against which your characters perform."

When writing your story, you must make sure there is a sense of place. It's essential. Setting denotes time, establishes mood and provides atmosphere.

As a writer you must make sure that your setting isn't simply paragraphs of description. Interweave with your characters and their actions.

Helen Haukeness writes in "Setting Your Novel Straight" that many writers who can write well about plot and character overlook the significance of setting.

She has identified eight problems that you, as a writer, may encounter and the solutions.

Let's begin.

1. Failure to Understand the Depth of a Setting.
Setting is more than buildings and roads, trees and flowers, or mountains and valleys. Setting means detail. Remember this word: specificity. When creating setting, involve all the senses: furniture, weather, people, tools, toys, clutter, lighting, odors.

As a writer, you want to elicit a response from your reader. You do this by creating a reality for them with your writing that is plausible.

2. Using Stereotyped Descriptions.
Create a sense of place with your writing. Either write what you know using environments you are familiar with, or do the research necessary to become familiar with unfamiliar settings. Ms. Haukeness suggests that writers keep a notebook of rile folder of brief descriptions, observations, and evocative images. Listen and observe wherever you are in order to absorb your environment through your various  senses.

3. Failure to Use Words as Symbols of Atmosphere and Mood.
Infuse life into your words when describing setting. Create an atmosphere that bursts into your reader's imagination with wondrous colors. Detail is important, but don't overwork your reader when they read your narrative. A smart reader will know when you're writing is overdone and no longer involves them in the story.

4. Failure to Evoke All the Senses in Descriptions of Setting.
When you think of setting, it brings to mind a picture. However, the visual image is only part of what you have to use to create a sense of place. Use all the senses available: sounds, smells, references to taste. Make the reader actually live your story instead of being an innocent bystander. Once again, let me remind you to not overdo it. Let your words build your background in your reader's mind.

5. Failure to Write Scenes Through the Character's Eyes.
You are not a character in your story. You are not the main focus. Let your reader experience your story and setting through your character's perception.

6. Failure to Change Setting Throughout an Entire Novel.
Your character doesn't stay the same throughout your story. Your character evolves, changes, and has moods. As a writer, you must make sure that your setting does the same thing. As emotions conflict in your character, so must your setting contrast. If your character is indoors, take them outside. If your character is in the woods on a rainy day show the colors, scents, surroundings to your reader.

7. Using Fictionalized Geographic Names That Don't Sound Authentic.
Be creative when using the names of cities, towns, places, and such in your story. Use your imagination or if you'd like, mix and match names of cities and states.

8. Isolating Descriptions From the Narrative Line.
If you write a lot of narrative in your story, more than likely, the reader is going to skip over it to get to the action - The dialogue of your characters. Don't end up using all your narrative to set your scene. According to Ms. Haukeness, "let the background of your novel come to life through your characters' thoughts, dialogue, and actions."

Did you learn something new about how to set your novel? Did you learn what not to do?


Resource Used: The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing

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