Here’s the thing, one of the perks of being an author is that I get to work with so many aspiring writers. Folks ask me to read their words frequently and pretty much across the board one of the biggest issues I see is that there is often little or no sense of place in the writing. I find this disturbing because emotion and feeling is inextricably bound up with place.
We just celebrated Christmas and so many folks traveled home or to loved ones to gather with family and friends to exchange gifts and food and share love and stories. Think about how important the setting was for this exchange. Setting is circumference. It both bounds and brings expanse to our experience. We decorate our houses, and bring in greenery and light candles and burn fires—all things meant to create a mood, to entice warm feelings and joy.
Well, here’s the thing, what would Christmas be without setting, without place? Oh, please I know there are some of you who will argue that Christmas is not about all the pantukas and snozwinkles and gift giving and twinkling lights. Yes, I get that, but still we decorate and strive to re-create our everyday homes into a setting of joy and good will. Setting becomes important. Actually I could make an argument that setting was important on the first Christmas.
The same is true for fiction. Building a strong sense of place in your story is an excellent tool for character exposition. Allowing your character to interact with setting is one of the best ways to show your character’s personality. Is she drawn to the fancy antique cigarette lighter on the book shelf or is it the elegant statue of a race horse that draws her attention. Perhaps it’s neither. Perhaps your character notices the smell of an old library or the luscious cooking going on in the kitchen. All these choices expose without telling.
Unfortunately I think we treat setting like the forgotten younger sibling of fiction technique.
I like what one of my favorite writers Eudora Welty has to say:
"Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.”
For an excellent lesson in setting I suggest you read Eudora’s amazing sort story, A Well Worn Path. The full text is available online.
So what’s going on in your setting.