Story-Specific Setting

Here’s a post from Writer Unboxed: Beyond Description: Story-Relevant Aspects of Setting

When we think of setting, the first thing that comes to mind is likely to be a panoramic view of a place—a village, forest, castle, planet. When people ask me about my WIP, I tell them that it’s “set” in Iceland, among the glaciers and thermal lagoons. Right away, they have a vision, a way to locate the characters and picture what will happen …

A setting like Iceland can situate a story in a time or culture or geography, evoke limitations and possibilities, create a mood. Yet setting can do so much more than that! 

Frankly, I think this part about situating the story, evoking possibilities, and creating a mood is important enough. I’m wondering what more the author of this post, Barbara Linn Probst, expects from the setting. Perhaps she is defining setting very broadly, to include theme, as was done by this post at Jane Friedman’s blog recently. Or maybe Probst has something else in mind. Let’s see …

When we shrink the scale from landscape to detail and focus on bits of setting—small sensory data—we can discover a whole range of story-relevant and story-enhancing ways that setting can be used.

Oh, that’s interesting. So pulling back from “Iceland” to look at details and sensory impressions. That’s fine. That is indeed all part of the setting. Ah, but now Probst goes on to explain that the specific details the protagonist notice are important, not for what they tell you about the setting, but for what they tell you about the protagonist. That’s exactly right, and I’m liking this post more and more. Many examples pulled from real books, not necessarily the author’s own book.

Also this:

Two different characters will perceive and respond to the same surroundings in different ways. Their differing responses can be a vivid, economical way to illustrate something important about how each character sees the world, setting the reader up for what will follow and making the ensuing struggle, alliance, or betrayal more potent and believable.

Yes, yes! This post is definitely worth reading, examples and all. I keep wanting to excerpt more of it. It’s a long post, which means it can handle the topic at reasonable depth. Click through and read the whole thing.

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