Monday, April 28, 2014

The Basics of Setting

I came to the unfortunate realization that all of my posts tend to focus on characters. This is totally my bad, since the "creations" part of Mondays is supposed to cover other things, too. Like setting. And plot.

I'm going to make an effort to mix it up (like I said, my bad, ya'll!). So, today, I shall talk about setting. And let me give you a disclaimer: setting is probably the toughest aspect of writing novels that I deal with. I actually struggle with it immensely. So we're going to make this a learning experience for everyone.

What is setting, anyway? The easy answer is to look at a novel as a historian looks at their own work, when they use the five "W's": who, what, when, where, why.

Setting would be the "when" and the "where."


Time and time periods are important. If you're writing a historical fiction based on World War II, for example, you're not going to be setting your novel in the 1800s or late 1950s. Is your novel futuristic? how far in the future? Or is it present-day?


Asking these kinds of questions is good. You need to be able to answer them. Even if you don't have a specific year, it's nice to have a general idea of whether your novel it twenty years into the future or even five months into the past. The reader needs to know when they are, even if all they get is a line in the back-cover summary that reads: "In a dark vision of the near future..." (from The Hunger Games; source:goodreads). For readers of The Hunger Games, they learn that the title television show has been airing for seventy-four years. So the book takes place at least that many years in the future.

Do we ever get an exact year? No. We don't need one. As long as we have a general idea of why the heck the world is so different-which is explained in the time change-then that's all we really need to go off of.


This is just as important. Going back to the Hunger Games example, we know that Panem is in the ruins of North America. Divergent is set in a futuristic Chicago. The Fault in Our Stars is set in Indianapolis, Indiana. Not a Drop to Drink, my Mindy McGinnis, is set in Ohio. I have friends who write dystopian novels set in Italy and Spain. There's also completely fictional places like Narnia, Hogwarts, and Alagaesia.

Yes, even fantasy novels have a setting.

The point is, we, as humans and readers and writers, like to have a general sense of where we are, as well. We need to orient ourselves, to immerse ourselves within whatever world you create. we tend to make a map in our heads, so we need proper nouns, a name for this world that the characters inhabit that we can staple to the date and go, "Oh, I see."

The where tends to be a bit harder that when. Just a warning.

There's a lot more research involved. As the writer, you need to know the area, what kinds of businesses might be around, the landscape, the climate, the weather, the kinds of transportation. Don't try to put a subway station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Trust me, we don't have one. Likewise, I'm fairly certain that Ohio doesn't do tumbleweed snowmen in the winter (don't judge, okay?). Taking a trip out to where you want to set your novel can help loads; or, if you have a friend who lives out there, you can cheat and ask them to take notes. Then there's this magical thing called the internet.

Then there's what I do: I make it up. Fictional towns and worlds are kind of my forte. I'll do a blog post about them in a few days or so (because they're SO much fun. Promise).

And this ends my little talk about what setting actually is, and why the heck it's kind of important. And I promise that I'll stop ignoring it in favor of characters.


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