Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
An excerpt from The Magic of Fiction
from Chapter 10, “Showcasing the Setting”
Setting details set your story apart, apart from every other story (including your own), apart from movies, apart from real locations. They establish place and time and can influence mood. Setting details can very quickly—even from page 1—set up reader expectations and influence reader emotions.
Setting showcases your characters, both their strengths and weaknesses. Setting can reveal character traits as well as shape characters.
A love story or mystery can take place anywhere and at any time. Your love story is different because it’s set in Gallipoli just before the Crimean War. Or in pre-Civil War New Orleans. Or on Palzar, the fourth moon of Rak’ar, in the year 2602.
Your mystery is unique because it takes place in Edwardian London or on a space station that’s the last human outpost at the edge of a wormhole.
And the particulars of those places and times should influence, saturate, and even drive your story.
Place, time, and cultural events should make stories different. They should influence characters. A setting should be so tied to a story that to change the setting would be to change the story.
And as you edit, you may need to do exactly that—change your setting. Your first choice of setting may not be the best one for your story. If you switched the year—to just before or during or just after a major event or upheaval—would you have a stronger story? Would you give protagonist and antagonist more ammunition?
What of the era in general? Have you used the one most beneficial to your fiction? Can enough happen in that time period? Do the characters of that age or era hold the proper opinions, the mindset, for what you need from them? Are they able to do what you need them to do? Do they have the knowledge they would need for the circumstances you write them into?
What of seasons or weather? Have you chosen the best for your needs? What would happen if you started the story three months earlier or six months later? Could you work in more challenges for the characters if the conditions were cold and snowy? Hot and humid? If it was the rainy season? The dry season? Hurricane season?
If you’ve featured holidays in your book, could you have benefited from a more emotion-laden one if story events began earlier or later in the year?
What of the political climate? How are characters affected by local, national, or world events? Do national or international events speed up your fictional timelines and deadlines? Have you taken advantage of your locale and its singular elements?
Your broad setting may not change much—for example, every scene in your story may take place in a small Florida city. But characters move from one room to another, one building to another, from downtown to the beach. And the smaller settings should fit the larger setting as well as fit the events that take place within them.
The larger settings can also change, of course. The setting itself may be changed by story events, by something such as war or large-scale weather events. Or characters may leave one setting and enter another. Whatever the reason for changes in setting, make sure they don’t pass unnoticed, not if characters should notice the change. On the other hand, don’t overplay the change if it’s not a big deal.
Read more about setting in The Magic of Fiction.
Join us all week—March 13 through March 17—for more excerpts and other Launch Week festivities to celebrate The Magic of Fiction.
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