Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I was set up!

I came across some great writing advice recently on Julie Elizabeth Leto’s website. She has a list of articles here, but the two that stood out for me were ‘Where Am I? The Importance of Setting to Your Romance Novel’ and ‘Ditching "The Book Of Your Heart" for "The Book Of My Voice".’

The first article, ‘Where Am I?,’ talks about the importance of setting. Now, although she talks specifically about the romance genre, it is true to any genre. Leto makes a great point that I hadn’t thought of: “Anyone who wakes up suddenly in a new place usually has only one question that must be answered first: where am I?” How true! And, looking at setting from this perspective, I realize how truly important it really is to ground a story.

Holly Lisle, in her Worldbuilding Workshop, also recommends knowing your setting well when you write a novel. Now, although she creates new worlds for her fantasy novels, she says no matter what the setting is, you need to have it mapped out. “Everyone needs a map. Even if your entire novel takes place within a single house over the course of a single day, you need to lay out the house -- the placement of windows, which side faces north, where doors, halls, and rooms lie in relation to each other. Nothing is more disconcerting than being told that sunlight is pouring through a window in a room we were previously told faced north. Or having bedrooms wandering around like sleepwalkers, on minute accessible from the kitchen and the next, only by going up stairs.”

Good point.

However, the importance of planning your setting goes further than just providing consistency. Leto says the setting is important to create the right ambiance for the story. Just like dark gloomy skies can be used as foreshadowing or to set a foreboding mood, so can the entire setting. But, it’s not just the setting that’s important, but also how you describe it. Leto says, “Setting and atmosphere must be considered nearly the same thing, since one is dependent on the other. To have setting without mood and atmosphere means a lack of emotional connection--a major no-no in romance. To have only mood and atmosphere and no concrete place invites confusion in the reader.”

Leto quotes William Noble, the author of Make That Scene: A Writer's Guide to Setting, Mood and Atmosphere, when she says, “Setting provides three crucial contributions to your story:
(1) It adds vividness to your story(2) It influences character(3) It plays a vital role in the story
If a setting you've chosen doesn't interlock this tightly with the story you're about to tell-if it's just a backdrop as changeable as stage scenery-you may not have chosen the right place for your story to occur.”

Here are some links about writing settings:
Writing Dynamic Settings
Creating a Vivid Setting
Four Ways to Bring Settings to Life
Writing Fiction: A Beginner’s Guide – part 3: setting
Creating the Perfect Setting
It's Your World: Setting Your Novel
Houses are People Too: The Structure of a Literary Device
How To Achieve Effective Setting
The Power of Place
Creating the perfect setting for writing fiction

Well there you have it. Do you think setting is important in novels? Why or why not?

PS In my next post I will cover Leto’s other article: ‘Ditching "The Book Of Your Heart" for "The Book Of My Voice".’


1 L Loyd said...

I hear Twilight Zone music.

Yesterday I was surfing the net... researching, yeah, researching on the internet, and found this workshop: The Basics of Setting by Lazette Gifford, in this month's issue of Vision: A Resource for Writers.

I'd make a link but I don't know how.

Does this mean you're distracted from writing too? That's when I find all these things.

Btw, what genre do you write in?

Have a hap-hap-happy day. =)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Loyd! Here is a link to Vision: A Resource for Writers' article, The Basics of Setting
And, as for genre? I write mainstream women's fiction, but there is usually an element of romance.
Hap-hap to you to!

Shesawriter said...


This says it all: "“Anyone who wakes up suddenly in a new place usually has only one question that must be answered first: where am I?” How true! And, looking at setting from this perspective, I realize how truly important it really is to ground a story."

That right there is some of the best advice I've heard in a long time.


Stephanie said...

Setting is indeed crucial. I need to have a feel for the place in order to immerse myself in the story. And when I feel my own writing is groundless, it's usually because I haven't created a strong enough sense of setting.

As an aside, Julie's article on writing in layers is also a good one...


Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

These is great, Nienke! I'm terrible at setting. I don't really like to dwell on it, but mainly just skim it on description. Even when I read, I don't like to be too focused on it for long, just a personal preference.

But I know I have to work on it!

Rene said...

I love settings. In fact, I often find when I am having trouble with a WIP, sometimes its the setting. Right now I am working on a WIP with a gothic feel, so setting is almost a character. The house is a key player in the whole story. If the setting is right, the hero and heroine fall into place.

Anonymous said...

I typically neglect setting; my worldbuilding is minimal, as I prefer to focus on characters and plot. But you're right about the importance of the world in which your story takes place, and next time I hit a stumbling block I'll see if developing the setting more presents any revelations. Even if it doesn't, it'll still help make everything nice and consistent if I put some thought into my world (and I'm horrible when it comes to scenery consistency -- it can switch from day to night and snowy to hot and everything in between).

Melissa Amateis said...

I think setting plays a crucial role in a novel. Wuthering Heights is a perfect example of that - the windswept moors, the spooky house - if it would have taken plan in the middle of London in a fancy mansion, it wouldn't have been the same.

Thanks so much for the links!!!

Tim Rice said...

I find determining setting to be even important in interpreting blog posts. When I can't adequately decipher the setting, it sometimes results in me making comments that I later regret.

Anonymous said...

Now you've got me curious!!

JG said...

Hello Nienke, I'm your neighbour from north of Steeles. I found your blog from over at Michelle Rowen's.

My genre (fantasy) is generally highly concerned with setting, sometimes to excess (I've heard the term "travelogue" tossed around), but in my WIP, I've found that setting has become particularly important on a micro level. Much of the action takes place indoors at one of three castles, and is meant to occur behind the backs of certain characters. I've thus had to sketch floor plans for these three castles just to figure out how to stage everything (and believe me, architecture is not a hidden talent of mine!) In terms of reading, I definitely rely on setting and/or atmosphere to help me vicariously live the plot and character situations. It's sort of like putting on a costume.

Tracy S said...

Michele sent me over to say good afternoon :)