When many new authors begin writing, they focus on plot and character. While these are important, it is vital to consider the setting of your novel.
The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be in a room, a park, a car, a pool hall, the White House, in space, on another world or any of a thousand different places.
Selecting the right setting can have a significant impact on your story. Choosing where a story or even a scene takes place can add suspense or excitement to a theme. Changing the location of a scene can have it going from flat to intense. To understand this concept, think of a few of your favorite scenes from novels or film. How would they change if they were set in a different location?
A tense conversation while driving in traffic on the highway would be totally different than the same scene at a park or even someone’s house. If a scene isn’t turning out the way you want, change its location and see if it works better.
So you have picked the setting for your scene, how much description of the location do you need to include? That really can depend on the purpose of the setting ( Is the scene used to add to the plot, develop characters or perhaps create suspense?) as well as your own preference.
I tend to follow the less is better when it comes to descriptions. When reading, I tend to skim over descriptions. I would rather just get to the action. Because of my preference, I try to give the reader enough description to get a general idea of the scene and then let their own imaginations take care of the rest.
Things to Avoid
Clumping – This is when a writer unloads the entire description at once. The momentum of the story grinds to a halt as the reader endures paragraph after paragraph of description.
To avoid this, first consider whether all that information is necessary to the scene. Does it enhance it? Second, spread the descriptive details throughout the scene rather than dumping it in one long section.
Over-Describing – There is no need to show off your prose skills with lengthy, elaborate descriptions. Pick a few choice details of the setting to include. If you want to show a filthy, disgusting alley, you don’t need to drag readers through every slimy puddle and throw them against the overflowing trash dumpster. Less is more – one metaphor, one adjective, one defining characteristic of a room, rather than two or three.
Real vs. Fictional Settings
One thing you might want to consider in deciding on a setting is whether you are using a real location or making up one? There are pros and cons to both decisions.
Fictional Setting – This takes more work. You will need to create the place and make it believable. Since your readers have not been there, you will have to add more descriptions. The type of world (or city) you build will determine the reactions and behavior of your characters. As a fantasy writer, I spend a lot of time developing my own fictional worlds.
Real Setting – In this choice, you will have to have your facts straight. You will have to know where things are located. If you say it takes so long to get from point A to point B, then you will need to make sure in reality it can happen that quickly. This is especially true if you are using a major city such as New York or Las Vegas. If you set it in real lesser-known location, most of your audience won’t know if you take some liberties with the actual descriptions.
If your setting is in a real place but a different time period, you will need to take in the behaviors of your characters to make sure they fit with the proper time period. (Example a woman’s role in society in 1920 is far different from today.)
Whether you use a real setting or a made up one, be sure to put some thought into your setting and realize how it can impact your story.