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.