The texture of a slimy earthworm, the sound of a creeking door, the lack of sight in a dark and cold mausoleum, and the taste of bile in your mouth upon seeing a decaying corpse are all examples of setting in a story.
It’s surprising to me that writers often focus on character development, dialog, and action sequence, and while juggling all these balls in the air, they drop the ball on setting.
Setting explains the physical environment of your characters and gives the reader a shift in mood. Writers are good at letting us know when it rains, but give us more than the dew point. Is the room crowded? Is it noisy or quiet? What colors pop out? Does it smell musty, fresh, or malodorous?
Certain types of music can also provide setting – Nirvana’s 90’s grunge has a different vibe from Bob Marley, for instance. What your characters are wearing can also add depth.
If you get writer’s block when describing setting, try some of these tips:
1. Physically go to a location that is similar to your story. For instance, if your characters are in a restaurant, bring writing materials with you to your next dining experience and record every sight, sound, and taste.
2. Look at a photo of a similar location. Use photos of your own or use Google images.
3. If setting is a weak point for you, then simply plow through your story and add setting later.
4. My FAVORITE tip, which I recently used myself: after the story was done, I created an outline in Microsoft Excel. I created a new row for each chapter. The columns were labeled as:
A. Chapter #
B. Name of Chapter
C. Brief description of events
D. Character name & descriptors (this shows me in which chapter the character was first introduced)
E. SETTING. this shows where certain setting elements are first introduced and prevents duplicate descriptions. This also shows which chapters are lacking setting references.
5. If you have a favorite book that is replete with setting, glance through the pages. My fave author who is masterful at setting is Carlos Luis Zafron, who wrote “Prisoner of Heaven” and other modern-day gothic tales.
Some writers are masterful at setting while others struggle. What works best for you? I’d love to hear from you.
Keep writing and keep sharing! – Cronin Detzz