Setting is an essential component of fiction writing, whether a novel or a short story. It’s generally indicated early in a novel or short story and usually developed through narrative description, but there are other means as well. The details of setting are what make the reader accept the reality of the work.
Here are some suggestions for creating a viable setting:
One: Choose a place you know something about. Maybe you’ve lived there. Maybe you only visited. But it helps if the writer has some sort of association because the place must have an aura of reality to be believable. My Kim Reynolds mysteries are set in
Central New Jersey because that’s where I lived for most of my life.
The township in THE BAD WIFE, for example, is based closely on the one I
actually lived in.
Two: If you are using an historical setting, make certain to do considerable research so that your background descriptions are historically accurate. Consider: how did people dress? How did they travel? What did they eat? What were the social, religious and political conventions and ideas of the period? How did people talk? Conversation and vocabulary differ in different time periods. Also, check timelines to make certain you don’t have important events occurring in a wrong year.
My two published historical romance novels were carefully researched. For example, TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS is set in Regency England directly after the Napoleonic Wars. THE CHEVALIER is set in Georgian England at the time of the uprising in the
Highlands in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. I read both fiction and nonfiction written in
the time period as well as numerous historical accounts before I began to write
the novels. This was something I enjoyed doing since I have degrees in English
and history and taught English at both the high school and university levels.
Three: Choose place names that fit the times. Place names are constantly changing. Decide whether or not you should use real place names or imaginary ones. In DEATH LEGACY, real places were used and described.
and Manhattan are prominently featured, as are actual streets and
landmarks, appropriate in this case to lend authenticity to a mystery suspense
thriller that is also a spy novel. Washington D.C.
Four: Consider the weather or climate as a component in setting. For example, winter weather works well for a murder mystery novel. Snow and winter can be used to symbolize death. This is true for THE BAD WIFE.
Weather helps to create tone, mood and atmosphere. For instance, a paranormal novel might be dark and foreboding. Thunder and lightening can create tension. Poe is a great one to study in this regard.
Five: Sense impressions are important in the narrative description of the setting. You need them to create a sense of reality. As they say, the devil is in the details. But balance is needed as well. Writers can overload their writing with too much detail or info dumping. Even some very famous authors are guilty of that. Setting details may also be part of characterization, existing in dialogue, action and a character’s thoughts.
What suggestions would you make in regard to the creation of setting?
Your thoughts and opinions welcome here.