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Bringing Setting to Life through Your Characters’ Emotions

Here’s a post I wrote some years ago that is worth revisiting!

One of the reasons readers willingly immerse themselves in a story is to be transported. Whether it’s to another planet, another era—past or future—or just into a character’s daily life, readers want to be swept away from their world and into another—the world of the writer’s imagination.

It’s challenging for writers to know how much detail to put in scenes to effectively transport a reader. Too much can dump info, drag the pacing of the story, and bore or overwhelm. Conversely, too little detail can create confusion or fail to evoke a place enough to rivet the reader.

In addition to knowing how much detail to show, writers have to decide what kind of details to use. I often read scenes in the manuscripts I critique, for example, that have characters engaging in lots of gestures, such as rubbing a neck, bringing a hand to a cheek, pushing fingertips together, turning or moving toward something—all for no clear reason.

Showing body movement, gestures, and expressions can be an effective way to indicate a character’s emotional state, but this needs thoughtful consideration so that the gesture or expression packs the punch desired.

I’d like to speak to the importance of showing setting—and not just showing it in any old way. What is key to creating a powerful setting is to show it through your character’s POV and in a way that feels significant. Continue Reading…

Use Sensory Detail to Bring Setting to Life

Fiction writers often ignore setting. Or it’s casually brushed over as if the writer begrudgingly knows something ought to be said about the place her character is in and just wants to “get it over with” and move on to the interesting elements in the scene.

An attitude like that shows a complete lack of understand of how powerful setting is.

Setting is perhaps the most versatile and useful element in fiction. It can reveal character motivation, backstory, past trauma, and the story’s cast, as well as reveal emotion and supply tension.

While I’m tempted to go into all the many ways setting can be used effectively in fiction, I’ll restrain myself and instead direct you to two excellent resources that I highly recommend every writer purchase and read thoroughly: The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Everything you need to know about writing masterful setting can be found in these two volumes. Continue Reading…

Tips on How to Bring Setting to Life in Your Fiction

Settings in fiction are often in the background—literally. Characters are talking and doing things, but readers get merely a glimpse of setting.

A character enters a building in some unidentified place (town, countryside, the Moon?) and goes into a room that has no description whatsoever.

The character walks outside, and there is no notice of weather or time of day or season. The reader can’t see the neighborhood or the environment.

Face it: if a writer doesn’t care much about setting, the reader won’t either.

Is that a problem? Maybe not for some readers. But most people will agree that the task of a fiction writer is to immerse her readers into her story. And story is setting. Characters have to be somewhere while they are talking, thinking, and behaving. Continue Reading…