Pay Attention to Setting

Characters are memorable. Plots are captivating. But we don’t talk much about setting. It’s time we pay more attention to where things are happening in our writing–both fiction and nonfiction.

Setting brings life to your story. We’re enjoying the most beautiful fall season we’ve had in years here in Minnesota. Placing a story in the midst of an explosion of reds, oranges, and yellows mixed within the pine trees creates a breath-taking stage for a reader’s imagination.

Here are some tips for improving your writing using setting.

  • Be observant of your world. Bring a notebook with you the next time you take a walk, drive through a small town, shop in a mall, attend a sporting event, or simply look out your window. Write down what you see.
  • Be specific. When you’re writing down what you see, be specific about what you’re observing. Are the trees maples? Elms? Oaks? Are the bees flying around the flowers? Have the birds flown south? How many businesses are closed in the small town? Are their signs still up? Why types of businesses were they? How many mall shoppers have packages? Where are the packages from? How many are simply window shopping? Socializing? Seem harried? Appear to be enjoying themselves? You get the idea.
  • Make lists. What’s in the store window display? Why do you suppose the owner thought those items would tempt customers? What do people’s yards say about them? Are the yards pristine or cluttered? Do they require a lot of attention (weeding, mowing, etc.) or not much? Are the leaves raked or piling up? What items are visible? Any junk? Any art?
  • Use active verbs. Does one person flail his arms around when talking to another? Do food wrappers cartwheel end over end in the March wind? Do deer scamper across the road in front of your car at dusk?
  • Be sure your setting fits your story. It doesn’t matter how intriguing your setting is if it doesn’t complement your story. Setting adds to the story. If it’s not doing that, rework it or replace it.

Pay attention to setting and see how your writing comes to life. Happy writing!


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