Wherever you go, there you are

Posted Dec 28 2010, 4:56 pm in ,

I’ve been thinking a lot about setting lately. Setting is a critical story element. It has the power to transport readers to a particular time and place, like the dry dusty circus where Sean Ferrell’s Numb first wandered. Yet setting gets little attention in the how-to-write-fiction world compared to say, character development. Done right, a novel’s setting pulls you into the story by all five senses. You can smell Ruby-Jean’s coffee in one of Bill Cameron’s books, taste the Say-I-Love-You fried chicken in Cynthia Reese’s Where Love Grows, even feel the sticky under you, as you crawl through New York-in-ruins with Jeff Somers’ Avery Cates. Jeff is arguably a master at developing settings that don’t exist.

“Okay,” you may argue. “I’m not writng sci-fi, so I don’t have to worry about setting to that extent.”  Yes, you do. Setting in many stories is as important – if not more – than character. Can you imagine Harry Potter in public school instead of Hogwarts? Lord of the Flies on a playground instead of an island? Setting shapes our characters’ decisions, puts limits on their abilities (ever see Captain Kirk fight that giant lizard?), even lets them rise above the circumstances we’ve established for them.

I, like many other writers, tend to set my stories in my own neighborhood. It’s basically an application of the Write What You Know maxim. In 2011, I want to develop better settings, settings that pull my readers into my stories by strong jaws and then thrash them around a bit.

Have you ever been inspired to use a place you’ve visited as a story setting? Or the inverse: visited a place simply because you read a great book set in that place? What fictional setting do you wish were real? Tell me in the comments how you develop your settings.



4 responses to “Wherever you go, there you are”

  1. Linda G. says:

    Definitely. In fact, I tend not to be able to visit anyplace without considering it as a setting for a book. That’s how my characters wound up in the ancient walled city of Visby, Sweden, during a rollicking medieval festival. (I wasn’t actually in Visby during a festival, but it wasn’t tough to add the festival to the setting I was familiar with.)

  2. abby mumford says:

    setting is so important, sometimes it can be like another character. paris, for instance, in ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by stephanie perkins. she wrote the book without ever having visited paris. i find that inspiring. thank goodness for google earth!

  3. Patty says:

    Linda, I’ve never been out of the country and don’t even have a passport. You got to visit Sweden? So jealous!

    Abby, I’ve been hearing a lot about this ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS book. Will have to pick up a copy.

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