Wordsmith Wednesday–Setting

Old Mansion

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How do you choose a setting for your novel, short fiction or poem? What role does setting serve? How can a place inspire your writing? These are only a few of the questions you want to ask yourself when you begin to write, no matter what the genre. And here is just a sampling of setting-issues for you to consider.

  • What kind of mood do I want to create? Setting is a means of creating atmosphere. It helps me to think about film. Consider Hitchcock’s Psycho or King’s The Shining in which darkness and gloom prevailed. Now compare that to Under Tuscan Skies, a movie about independence, love and freedom. Horror, romance, mystery–different genres call for different settings.
  • How well do I know the location I’ve chosen? Based on the role that setting will play in your story, you need to be attentive to accuracy. My first novel is set in the location where I live: Reno, Nevada, but my second I wanted to immerse myself in a city I love to visit: Chicago. That one took a lot more work. I visited Chicago, called upon the concierge of the hotel where I stayed to help me obtain some specific information, and sought out a couple of Chicagoans as consultants. You always have the option of “inventing” a place and in certain types of fiction, that’s just what you better do. Think: Hogwarts.
  • Can place inspire my writing? You bet. Those of us who write poetry will tell you that a number of poems write themselves while we’re walking the dogs or tramping in the woods. Many of us go to coffee shops or sit on park benches to capture moods, snippets of conversations, physical details. I enjoy trolling garage sales or thrift shops looking for untold stories.
  • Finally, how about setting as a character? All you have to do is think of John Steinbeck. (The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row…) Or, how about Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)

Can you add examples of how place has worked for you in your own fiction or poetry writing? Can you think of other novels that rely on setting. I’m currently reading Jane Eyre and just realized the importance of the role of those gloomy old mansions in the telling of the story. If you come up with something, please share in the comments.


10 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Setting

  1. trisha says:

    thanks for the suggestions victoria, this is another field on which i have to work a little more.


  2. Jamie Dedes says:

    Making the point about setting as character is a good point. I think setting is always character to me. Steinbeck such a good example of this, but he wrote about a place he knew well from living there. For me, a place that I am not as familiar with can often be evoked by focusing on one building or plant or body of water. Just a thought …

    So enjoy this on-going collection.


  3. Tino11 says:

    The real beauty of writing for me is that I tend to go on a spontaneous moment. A thought pops up, write about it before its too late. Read something, do the same.
    I seldom go out these days, so I can only write about places from memory or imagination and sometimes its good to escape reality and get lost in another time and place.


  4. I sometimes write about places I haven’t been, and that usually needs a bit of a research, to make sure I’ve got right the feel of the place. But it’s much easy to write about the somewhere you’ve already been and you know every little detail. With me is very easy to write about Egypt, I’ve been there few times and the amount of inspirations is huge. Thanks for the advice here Victoria!


  5. Waldow says:

    Noir relies heavily on the dark industrial labyrinth of a city to trap protagonists in a future as concrete & determinate as their pasts.

    Cities are spread out now so I guess more noir dialouge has to be in a car. Lono Waiwaiole does a great job of this for Portland Oregon. Nowhere is so nowhere but populated like 82nd Avenue on a rainy day.


  6. moondustwriter says:

    I love classic literature because it takes in many elements. Character development , setting, symbolism …
    My favorite is Tale of Two Cities but another Favorite is War and Peace. These two writers have a way of making several settings work with their key characters.

    When you talk about Chicago – I have a place in Eastern Europe I have visited several times. The place has seen war and blight and hardship ( I’d better not give it away…)
    Great way to get people thinking.


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