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?