SJ’s Weekly Writing Tip: On Choosing Setting

Superstition Mountain, Arizona

Small town or big city?  Real or fictional? Setting as a character? 

The options are as limitless as your imagination, and as powerful. Can you set an entire novel in a single room? Sure, if the room on its own provides sufficient conflict to convince your reader to stay in there with you. What would it take to convince you? Would a hint of dire consequence be enough? A glimpse of blood smeared claws, choking black smoke creeping through cracks, a dying child the rest of the world has given up on?                

Setting does more than provide mood and a picturesque backdrop. Considering an all-but-forgotten town on the outskirts of nowhere? Why? What inconvenience does this cause your character? How does it enable your villain? What happens here that can’t happen anywhere else? What physical or psychological obstacle gets thrown in your character’s path, keeping him from getting what he wants? 

Perhaps you need the hustle of a big city. Why not make the hassles of city living cause your character grief? Does he live on the twenty-first floor of an apartment building in Manhattan? Have the elevator break down. Need to get somewhere fast? Cause a traffic accident. 

Subtle is effective. Does your character crawl along a tree limb to sneak in after curfew? Snap it off in a storm. Have loose gravel fly up and crack the windshield, sending your character to the repair shop where you reveal clues important to your main conflict.

Search around. Perhaps you’ll find an intriguing landmark you can breathe life into. Endow your mountain range with superstitious powers that land your lead in trouble. Better yet, use one already shrouded in mystery to drive your story forward. 

Why let your setting tag along for the free ride, while you do the grunt work? Use it, abuse it, and give your setting a reason for being.   

What’s your tip?

Have you used setting to advance your plot? Tell us how.

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3 Responses to SJ’s Weekly Writing Tip: On Choosing Setting

  1. Tanya says:

    Almost makes me wish I could write! 😉

  2. BETTY JEAN MCNAMARA says:

    Love your web site and the Blog.
    Your writing career is continuing at a great pace; anxiously waiting to read the book.

  3. Dale Long says:

    I use weather a lot. As foreshadowing, as mood setting, sometimes as a character. But mostly any places I use I try to ground them in reality. Make them places everyone can envision, instill a sense of familiarity. It makes the scary parts more frightening.

    Like you said, sometimes it’s the small things that ground a scene.

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