The Importance of Setting

Setting is an important part of writing a story. It is as important as characterization and plot. When used properly it fades into the background of the text, nearly invisible, giving to your readers a sense of place and time. Setting is needed, but can be overdone or underdone. and when it moves into either of these two extremes, you’ll either bore you audience or confuse them.

Like many readers, I prefer a happy medium. I prefer a rich tapestry of setting and description that does not run on and on for paragraphs, but whose threads are interwoven into the dialogue and action.

My best advice, when creating settings for your novels, study writing that you enjoy, imulate but don’t copy the writing of authors you like to read, and write the stories you love. Don’t make a laundry list of descriptive details, or do, just don’t put them all into your first paragraph. Use the details that are important to the story or help create the mood you want you readers to have going into a scene.

The best advice I’ve recieved over the years is: if you like lots of discription in your stories, use lots of description, but during the edits use beta readers to pare down the too long parts; and second, if description bores the hell out of you, write your story and then ask your beta readers to look for parts that might need clarification or unanswered questions that might need to be answered.

There will always be readers out there that will like what you write, you’ll just have to find them. And don’t give up, live your dreams and make them a reality.

Do you find setting to be important in your stories, or do you mostly ignore it?

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Setting

  1. mariminiatt July 28, 2010 / 12:07 am

    I think about the setting as much as the characters. I invent new cities and worlds, but the reader only sees a small portion of what I have created. The town where my vampires reside is drawn out on a large map along one wall in my house. The world of my fantasy story, has it’s own bookshelf, with maps, notes, pictures, and anything else I can think of.

    I need all that information as a writer. But I don’t want to overwhelm my readers with it. If I have to mention that a certain street crosses another, it better be important to the story.

    Overall, it is important. But I will know more than my readers ever will.

    • Joleene Naylor July 28, 2010 / 3:41 am

      Yeah, I think that’s always the way of it in Speculative fiction. You have to know so many things as the author because tiny details can make a huge difference in the characters personalities or reactions, but they’re details that the readers don’t need.

  2. Joleene Naylor July 28, 2010 / 3:39 am

    I go back and forth. I tend to be a very visual person, so in scenes that I can really “see” I’ll get detailed, while in others I don;t even say what color of hair a person has. My brother is a detail fanatic, so he’s very good at calling out the points I missed, and I get bored when I reread all the detail, so I do pretty good at whittling it down. my problem is “killing the darlings”, or the imagery that I really like but that is totally necessary.

  3. Ruth Ann Nordin July 29, 2010 / 12:02 am

    I do it the same way Joleene does. Most of the time, I wing it. I start the scene and wait for the details to come to mind and incorporate those details as they emerge to me. I did know an author who did maps of towns where everything was. She had an entire binder dedicated to all the details of her story from maps to drawings of the people, etc. I could never write that way, but she succeeds at it and her stuff is not boring to read. How she wittles it down, I don’t know but she’s pretty amazing that way.

    • Joleene Naylor July 29, 2010 / 1:15 am

      ha ha! yeah, I make maps after the fact. I’ve always thought it must be nice to be so organized and have it all up ahead of time, but I never do. mainly because I never know what’s going to happen anyway.

  4. Stephannie Beman July 29, 2010 / 11:13 am

    mariminiatt-I so wish I had the space to do that with some of my novels. My sister once drew a map for one of my worlds for me, I so would have liked to hang it up. I agree that when we mention a place or put setting details into the story it had better be important.

  5. Stephannie Beman July 29, 2010 / 11:19 am

    Joleene-I’m the same with imagery. With My Lord Hades when I had to whittle the scenes down I found parts where I said the same thing two different ways and had to figure out which one to chuck and which to keep. The worse was deleting whole paragrphs because it did nothing for the scene. I get a little on the wordy side

  6. Stephannie Beman July 29, 2010 / 11:29 am

    Ruth-and I thought I was bad. I’m just not that organized or ambitious enough to create that much detail that will never be seen. I plan my books and write them. But kudos to her

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