Posted in creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Types of Settings

There are two main types of setting: backdrop and integral.

Backdrop Settings

Backdrop settings are not terribly important to the story. The scene utilizing a backdrop setting could take place almost anywhere without changing the general dynamic or meaning. They are often transition scenes where minimal information is exchange or some detail or piece of information is revealed to the reader.

These are settings like hallways, cafes, sidewalks, etc. The allow for quick entry and exit and are often familiar settings to the reader, so they need minimal description or attention. Not having to spend page space on setting description or explanation allows the focus to stay on the content of the scene.

Integral Settings

Integral settings are settings where time and place influence the theme, character, and action of a story in some way. Animal Farm wouldn’t be the same if set in a shoe store. The way the setting influences a scene should be somewhat obvious, in the sense that the characters being in the scene feels right to the reader and the details of the setting help the reader more fully experience whatever is happening.

These types of settings need more in-depth description and development. Take the time to point out important details that bring the scene to life, such as the cleanliness of the room, how dim or bright it is, does it feel oppressive or free, colors that reflect personality, etc. Don’t describe every detail, but do point out those that help the reader get to know the character better or interpret what is happening or what information is being given more fully.

Integral settings are usually recurring settings or settings used for important scenes in the story. When these settings are first introduced there will often be more detail and focus on how the setting affects the character or mood. This type of detail isn’t necessary every time the characters visit the setting, however. In repeat scenes, only mention details that have changed, ones you think the reader may need a reminder of because they will play an important role in some way, or those that a character may have missed or missed the significance of before.

Description of settings should most often be kept at a minimum. Give enough detail that you feel confident that reader can form a basic mental image and let them fill in the blanks based on their own experiences. Trying to hard to force the reader to create an exact mental picture of a setting is exhausting for the reader.

Remember to evaluate what type of scene you’re working with before adding description and details.

Posted in characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Setting: Why Setting Matters

Setting is not just a location for characters to interact.

Setting is critical to a story’s success for several reasons:

Setting affects how a story progresses. Location can be a hindrance to or facilitate story progression. If a character is taking a physical journey, setting can be used to created physical obstacles, such as a hot desert with a long stretch of no services or fellow travelers when a vehicle breaks down. It can also provide an environment for success, such as a calm and peaceful park where a character can collect her thoughts after a stressful or traumatic moment.

Setting can also affect a character’s worldview and mindset. When, where, and how we grow up shapes us. Consider the differences in how two characters may think and act when one grew up on an organic farm and volunteered at a no-kill pet shelter and another character grew up on a ranch where animals provided food and income and nature was often seen as a enemy to survival.

Setting also helps to establish the atmosphere of scenes and affects reader perception of events. Picture a character walking down the aisles of a bookstore. How does the experience differ when the shelves and books are nicely arranged, there is plenty of light, and cheery music is playing in the background, compared to if the store is dark and musty with scattered stacks of book, the only sound the character’s footsteps and those of someone following him just out of sight? Details of the setting can make all the difference in how an experience will be perceived, both by the character and the reader.

Setting also affects the characters’ choices and actions, depending on how it impacts the scene or story. If a character has a clear view of escape from a dangerous situation, she will most likely take it. If, however, her view is blocked by other people or objects in the way, the decision will take longer to make because she has to consider multiple options. The possibility of a wrong decision or inaction increases. Also consider how a room filled with people all staring, waiting for an answer will provide more pressure to give in or lie as opposed to a one-on-one meeting in a welcoming and bright office.

Lastly, setting can also act as a character, either as an antagonist, such as in a survival situation, or as a protagonist, such as a garden that provides solace and comfort to an introverted person who fears the unknown.

Carefully consider the details of setting and how it will impact all elements of a story.