Your Story’s World

I read another chapter of Donald Maass’s book, The Fire In Fiction (only $12.23 at Amazon), and it was all about setting. When I think about setting, I usually think about the place and the details, but Maass says it is oh-so-much-more! You “bring the setting into the story in a way that integrates it into the very fabric of your character’s experience.” Easier said than done, I know. But he gives suggestions on how, like:

LINKING DETAILS AND EMOTIONS – Take a childhood home, for instance. Describe the place and let your character experience the feelings the place evokes. Together, details and emotions make a place a living thing.

MEASURING CHANGE OVER TIME – Tangible things in your scene can bring out passage of time, such as ice cream trucks, crew neck sweaters, leaf blowers, Popsicles, swim suits, scarfs, snow plows, etc. Of course, these things can evoke emotions as well, to enhance the experience of your character.

HISTORY IS PERSONAL – Historical detail is a good thing, but a story doesn’t have to be chock full of it. Creating a sense of the times is not just about the details (or even coupling them with emotions). The times are also enhanced by infusing a character with strong opinions about both the details and the emotions. What does the character feel about historical events? What shapes his views?

SEEING THROUGH CHARACTER’S EYES – Use different POV characters to “see” the setting. Each character’s personality will see with different emotions and from a different perspective.

CONJURING A MILIEU – Yeah, I had to look that word up. (*blush*) It means a social or cultural environment. It is not necessarily a “place”, but something like the world of pro-baseball players, or the life of stage actors, etc. This is what Maass said about it: “A milieu exists not in a time or place, but in the mind and hearts of the characters who dwell in it. Their memories, feelings, opinions, outlook and ways of operating in their realm are what make it real.”

SETTING AS A CHARACTER: A setting may participate in the story, like a blizzard, drought, or nature. It can be a place of significance, like The Boardwalk on Coney Island. It could be the place where your husband proposed and you spend every anniversary at. You make it real by making it significant to the character.

As always, Maass gives many examples of each point from many different author’s works. It is very helpful to see how others are doing it. The next chapter is on Voice and I am curious how he explains THAT! lol

Setting is one of my weak points in writing. I like dialogue and action best, so all the details slip me by. I will definitely need to focus on my story’s world when I get to editing.

Do you love to build your story’s world? If not, how do you make yourself write the setting? What tools or rituals do you use?

14 responses to “Your Story’s World”

  1. Now I see why fiction principles can make non-fiction writing better, too!
    I need to apply these to my devos and books.
    Thanks for the help,


  2. Excellent post! I just got Fire in Fiction in the mail for free because of a blog contest! Can't wait to start reading!!


  3. Great post. Setting is one of my weaknesses as well. I love the dialogue and progressing the plot through action, through conflict. Sometimes I get so caught up I completely forget the characters are standing or sitting, etc. in a specific place that should be mentioned every once in awhile šŸ™‚


  4. Ahh, looks like I have another book to add to my reading list. Thanks for the info here!


  5. Great post and I really think I may have to invest in this book. Setting is one of my weakest areas.


  6. I try and ask myself the “who, what, where, why, how” questions of each scene. Who's in it? What are they doing/seeing/listening to etc.? Where are they? Why are they here? and How is the scene going to unfold? Those questions can help bring out some of the setting.

    The more I read about this book, the more I want to get it. šŸ™‚


  7. Hi Sherrinda –

    Thanks for the tips. These bite-sized suggestions help me retain the information.

    Susan šŸ™‚


  8. Jeanette, how interesting that fiction and non-fiction writing can mesh so well! I'm so glad!!

    Katie, I won Fire in Fiction too!!! And it really has been good, though it has shown me how much I DON'T know!

    Cindy, I know EXACTLY what you mean! I get sooo caught up in the moment that we go from A to B with nary a detail! (historical fiction is my love, hence the “nary”) lol

    quixotic, you would definitely enjoy this book! I hear all his work is good. In fact, I just got in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook in the mail. I'm hoping to read that soon.

    Amy, you'd definitely get alot out of the book. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that you can apply to your own work.

    Lynnette, that is a great way to look at each scene! I will have to get that a try. Being a bit of a pantster, I just let go and write (with a vague idea of where I am going), but am learning I really need some direction. I will have sooo much editing to do with this WIP!

    Susan, I am terrible at “retention”! I read so many books that I will forget what they are about a year later! Sad to say, the older I get, the worse it gets!


  9. Great post! I'm not sure if I use setting in a strong way. I try to, but sometimes I forget. Usually when I read through though I can catch some of the stuff.


  10. It's super easy to gloss over the setting details when we're writing our first drafts. I had to go back and add details, especially sensory details to both my books. I would like to really learn how to add those details particular to each POV character. It's definitely something I need to grow in! Thanks for sharing, Sherrinda! Hope your headache goes away!


  11. I do love building my story's world. In my non writing time I'm still there. It's amazing how connected I feel.


  12. Jessica, LOL, you are funny! Man, I've missed you! šŸ™‚ I try too, but then forget…but, then, I hear it is an easy fix later during the editing phase.

    Jody, I thought your story was beautifully done (what little I got to read!) I could see it unfold like a movie in my mind, which is GREAT! I love that kind of reading! And thanks…my headache has eased considerably, though I may head off to bed early anyway. I am tired!

    Oh T.Anne, I want to be that connected to my story! I find that as I am nearing the end, I am getting bored with it (which is terrible!!!) I would love for you to share your secret!


  13. What a fantastic post! Setting is something I'm pretty good at. I do struggle with making the settings different for each POV character, though. But this is some awesome tips and information! I really need to get that book.


  14. Lady Glamis, I had never thought about viewing the setting through a different set of eyes (POV) and it is a fabulous suggestions…especially if the the differing eyes see the same thing totally opposite! More conflict! šŸ™‚


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