Monday, April 29, 2013

How Do You Pick a Setting? By Linda S. Glaz

One of the things that’s hardest for me is getting my characters grounded in a setting. I know they’re in the kitchen of an old farmhouse, but how do I get that point across to the reader without a detailed account of the kitchen utensils?
I’ve noticed in a few contest entries, that I’m scratching my head, going back and rereading, and all in order to try and figure out where the characters are. Once I have to go back, I’m pulled out of the story, and no author wants to give their reader a reason to stop reading.
It would be nice and neat if we could envision a picture like above and know exactly what the characters are doing and where, but it isn’t always that simple. Settings can be in a place the reader has never been, or in a situation that makes the setting feel foreign.
My comfort zone wants to return again and again to a favorite place. Then I know where I’m at, but does it move the story forward or feel like déjà vu? Unless, of course, there is a particular importance for a certain setting to repeat itself.
How do you decide where you’ll take your reader, outside of the obvious settings that determine your genre. What makes you pick a porch swing over a cozy kitchen? A picnic over a formal restaurant? How and why do you make those relationships important to your story?


Timothy Fish said...

There is almost no setting that is so foreign to a reader that they can’t relate it to something they’ve seen. Most settings have a few objects that you are unlikely to find in other locations, so simply having the characters interact with these objects will cause the reader to remember a similar setting in which those objects existed. We wouldn’t want to overload a scene with these objects. We would want to include some of these objects within the first few lines of a scene. We would also want to bring them in occasionally during the rest of the scene to remind the reader where we are. Every few paragraphs or so.

As for the location (picnic over formal restaurant), that all depends on the nature of the character and whether I need them to be in their element or a fish out of water. If there is a villain, I think it works best for him to always be in his element. Villain or no villain, the protagonist should tend to be outside their element. If the protagonist is most comfortable in a porch swing, put them in a party for of socialites. If the protagonist is a workaholic, put them in a porch swing.

Davalyn Spencer said...

Setting is my favorite element - even over characters. Ouch! That's why I love the middle-grade books by Gary D. Schmidt. He enmeshes his characters into/with the setting. I have no suggestions for your question because my problem is the opposite. Setting always comes first. Then I have to figure out who to put in it and what they're going to do!

Linda Glaz said...

Interesting, both comments from totally opposite directions. I hadn't thought about started with setting, and there's no denying it, Davalynn, it works for you. Your settings are beautiful and the reader is def grounded in it right away.

Jennifer Major said...

Ohhhh, Linda, GREAT topic!!

I chose to use ambient lighting as a setting in and of itself in my first book. I used darkness and night, but not interchangeably. The heroine sees the absence of daylight as a very bad thing, because bad things happen when the lights go out and even the sun retreats in fear. Whereas the hero sees the absence of daylight simply as night, a time to watch the stars and peek through the holes in the floorboards of heaven and spend time alone with God. All through the book, 'darkness' and 'night' are used specifically with the appropriate characters. Only when she has come to terms with what has happened to her do I then use 'night' in regards to her character. At that point, when the hero has found her in the woods and removed the Colt from her possesion/mouth, do I remove 'darkness' from her storyline.

The secondary title for the book is "A Night in the Darkness".

I play a little with 'heat' and 'warmth' as well.

Jennifer Major said...

Wait a minute...I just thought of something. Have I made darkness and night a character? Something to ponder while I rake leaves.

Timothy Fish said...

I don’t know that the two comments are as opposite as it first appears. Setting and character are not independent variables. Whether we start with characters or start with setting, it is how the two come together that make it interesting (or not).

Amanda Stephan said...

Great topic, Linda.
I have a difficult time with settings. I don't know why, but I do. I tend to stick with my comfort zones, but I like Mr. Timothy Fish's tips and tricks. Love it!

I'm also one of those that if the author goes overboard in detailing the setting, or character, it annoys me and pulls me out of the story just as much as not knowing where they're at and having to go back.