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Manor House GraphicWhere does your book take place? Is it on a ranch, a manor, a sailing boat, a lonely stretch of desert? Is the time period current, historical, a mix (as in time-travel), the future? What is the political situation at the time of the story? How about the religious mores? What’s the technology like?

All of these questions pertain to setting. They are the black velvet background on which you paint your portrait of Elvis. Without this kind of detail, your story will be flat and lifeless.

You have to write it all out, but here’s the key to setting: you don’t dump it all on the reader at once. You parcel it out, little bits at a time, adding nuance to each scene and building on what you built before. Frequently, you don’t share all the details with the reader at all. Many are left behind in your notes. But without a doubt, the setting details you worked out help you as you write the story by pulling you deeply into the book and giving you hooks to hang your character behavior and plot devices upon.

When I get to Step 2 in my writing process, having asked the question what if, I try to put that scenario in its proper place and time. So, for example, when I thought about Under Wraps, I knew the setting would have to be historical. Furthermore, what better way to throw my two characters inescapably together than to put them in a covered wagon and send them 3,000 miles across rough terrain in the U.S.? It was terrain I could map and identify. Research could give me historical information to place the action and people in the proper time. The same thinking held true for my sci-fi book, Laricon’s Ways. I wanted a controlled place with high-tech but incorrect morals. I chose a privately owned moon where people live in domed cities. Obviously, that book is set in the future, but not so distantly that there wouldn’t be familiar objects and actions for the reader to relate to. That limited the place and time to something manageable.

Choosing a setting for your story can also set the erotic tone of the piece. For the Daughter of the Moon books (speculative fiction set in the not too far-flung future), part of the setting was creating the world view. At this point in the future, there is a resurgence of the “free love” mentality. Sex is safe and is a common way for people to reduce stress and be sociable. That made it easy for the erotic component to be a background as well as a plot device.

A setting can make or break a book. It’s well worth the time to wrap your mind around the time, place and details of where your characters will act out their drama.

Next time, I’ll examine main characters.

7 Comments

  1. I tend to have to remind myself to put in descriptions of setting. I don’t like reading a lot of description, so I don’t always put in enough, though I can see the scene perfectly in my mind. LOL Your point about info dumps is so true, Patricia. They may have been what turned me off in the first place. 🙂 Excellent post!

  2. “here’s the key to setting: you don’t dump it all on the reader at once” – such an important point. It applies to a lot of other aspects of good fiction, too, like backstory and navelgazing, in my opinion. Drop it in the story along the way, a little here, a little there, and the pace keeps going nicely. Great post!

    • Thank you, Max. Info dumps can be extremely distracting for the reader. I remember an historical romance I read years ago where the heroine was attending a banquet. EVERY item on the banquet table was described. I was bored silly, and asked myself “who cares?” more than once.

  3. Everything you said is so true. Setting can make or break a story.

    Great and helpful post.

  4. I missed your first part. Can you send it to me at William_oc@yahoo.com

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