Setting – The Story WHERE

I love the setting! I think I feel that way because I love the world around us. I want that world to be like a CHARACTER in the story. I want to know where my story people are as the story unfolds. I want it to be  living, breathing place for the reader, a place with smells and colors and sounds.

But here’s an interesting thing about setting – the same place can evoke very different feelings from different characters based on the background and experiences of each.

Think of it this way: One character formerly lived in wide open spaces, somewhere in the Western US. They are used to being able to see the sky above, watch the clouds form and the storms roll in. Another character has always lived in forested regions. They rarely experience a full sky, and instead, prefer the enclosed spaces of tree covered expanses.

Say you have a scene where the characters meet, and stumble out of the forest onto an open plain. The first character is suddenly able to breathe. His/her heart feels lighter, and the smells of grass and wind and air act as a catalyst and reviving spirit. To the second character, such a wide expanse feels threatening. Where can you hide? Who is watching? Where is protection from the elements, or from the unknown?

You can see how each character’s reaction will color that scene. In addition, a new conflict is born. Their different perceptions of the place will affect their reactions of everything happening in that scene. One feels fear, the other exhilaration. Two extreme reactions – and a great setup for misunderstandings and mistrust.

So how do you develop place for a scene? Not in sentence after sentence of description, although a few well-thought out phrases are fine. Let the characters expose the setting in their dialogue, their thoughts, their actions.

Components of setting which characters can reveal should evoke all five senses – and maybe a sixth as well.

How does the place smell? like rotting meat…like a flower garden… like your grandmother’s closet…

How does the place look? like a cemetery… an auditorium … a football field … a prison cell … (Think of colors, and shapes, and comparative sizes)

What do you hear?  birds … the wind … a train whistle … traffic … a dog barking …

What can you taste in the air? garlic … chocolate … pine … dirt …rain …

What can you feel? a hot breeze … a cold draft … sticky humidity … a dog’s breath on your ankle…

And finally, the sixth sense – what emotions are evoked? fear … loneliness … love … hate … resignation … dread

Once these questions are answered, you are on your way to creating a great scene, with a great sense of place.


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