Creating A Decent Setting
by Pierre Gilson
The setting of a story, the narrative specifically, gives your characters a place to call home. It gives them a chance to visit a deceased loved one or recall a memory about a time that they received their first kiss. It is impossible to do this without first creating the environment for the characters to live in, and that’s the hard part. Generating the right setting with all of the right background and details can be taxing on us writers. There are countless ways to produce a great setting, but that also takes time to figure out. I know a handful of writers that build their worlds from general ideas that they’ve picked up here and there. I do not doubt their world-crafting ability, but once I read their stories, I saw a significant amount of detail left out. The element of livability lessened because they did not take the time to study what they wrote about in their books. One of my favorite authors, Terry Brooks, told me at a convention that, for him to write his books in a way that allows readers to fully immerse themselves in his world, he studies history and politics. If you’ve ever read his Shannara book then you can see how history and politics shape that world, and thusly has a direct connection with the setting.
I think that, as writers and creatives, we want the reader to see every single detail. That isn’t bad, but it sure ain’t good. Take this sentence as an example:
The green, bushy leaves rode on the cinnamon branches that hung loosely on a pine tree that Pope Von Durkraken planted at the height of the 1800th revolution, before the aftermath that left only one single tree left.
This may leave most readers exhausted by the end. If I were to fix it up by pointing out focal points and add a little movement to the scene, the reader’s imagination will have room to put in work and get its gears turning. Here's an example:
A line of ants climbed through the maple of a large tree. Elana placed her hand on the withered bark as the wind fanned its branches. She smiled at the sound of the leaves as if hundreds of hands clapped for her to perform another sonnet. It seemed impossible that only one tree remained in this broken forest. Her instructors in college told her stories about how Pope Von Durkraken gave his life trying to keep the land green. Elana looked at the tree. It no longer had the good health of copper hue but one of deep gray.
All I did was add physical interaction with the environment, make it a personal experience with the protagonist, and showing two of the five senses. It becomes easier to do as long as you continue to practice, train, and study every day. If you are making writing into a career like me, then you want to treat your craft like your life depends on it.
So, get your pen, pencil, phone, or pad and get to writin’!