You have well-defined characters and well-plotted story then what is the big deal about its settings? And even if it were to be a big deal, then where to begin with it and how?
These questions are a common struggle among many aspiring authors. While, the desire for a dramatic screen play does not leave them alone, they hesitate at revealing too much or being descriptive to an extent that is boring.
Where is the balance?
It is between knowing why setting is important, how to implement it, and how much.
This might sound obvious but, in their right answers lay your perfect novel and story. So, without wasting another second, let us begin.
Why is setting important?
To hook your readers, it is essential that you create a mood and atmosphere in the story.
A. Irrespective of the dangers that followed, he chose to run after her through the traffic.
B. The cars honked on the busy highway that was jammed with a never ending trail of vehicles lined up one after the other. Speeding, as if trying to overtake time itself, the cars and the buses didn’t seem to stop for anything. With such a dangerous view in sight, he still chose to run after her, leaving behind the fear of consequences, leaving behind the fear of death.
It is evident which one of the above statements is creating an environment for the story by adding the tone of urgency to it. It helps the reader to understand that though a lame decision, why did the character felt compelled to do it. It becomes easier for the reader to understand and connect, once he knows the premise of the scene. The mention of ‘highway’ heightens the intensity of danger as opposed to not mentioning it and letting the reader assume it were a busy street.
The place and time largely effect the overall story/scene.
For the author, the setting affects the plot and nature of the characters as well. A story set in the countryside will inspire different language, dialect, and perspective in a character than a story set in a metropolitan city. The time of year determines climate and that further effects the plot in several ways. With a change in place changes the worldview of the character and his opinions.
In short, setting is important to not only create mood but also the identity of your characters.
How to implement it?
Describe the scene using the 5 W rule. Either jot down the answers to the following questions or mentally make a note of them when describing the scene.
1. Where (did it take place)
2. When (in the decade, year, day, or month)
3. What is the weather or climate?
4. Who are the people around and how is the social condition in that place?
5. Which details make it more clear (landscape, political situation, particular lifestyle, economy, wildlife, etc.)
Example A: The boy lived in a downtown neighborhood among people that were least bothered about who ruled them. Their only concern was bread, buck, and a bottle of rum. Though hot and humid, you could always find the streets crowded – vendors selling and thugs betting. One could hardly tell of the natives could feel anything at all except hunger – for food, money, and sex.
In this example, the reader can clearly make out from the description of the place (being downtown), people (tough and carefree), and climate (hot and humid) that the character (the boy) will be highly decisive, unafraid, and unfuckwithable.
Example B: The boy lives in the countryside, far away from the dust and decay of the metropolis. He lived among people who were never a part of the rat race. The serenity in their lifestyle and kindness in their action left the place tranquilized. The wide-spread meadows and orchids could pacify the most anguished mind.
In this example, the boy clearly belongs to a beautiful place that is know for its peace and harmony. Its natives are honest and polite people. The weather is calm and the green meadows indicate natural, non-materialistic approach towards life – simplicity. In such circumstances and settings, the boy will be expected to be kind, generous, and not-so-ambitious.
How much to describe?
The 1-rule for creating perfect settings for any story is similar to the “inverted pyramid” technique – you go from broad to narrow.
For example, when talking about ‘where’, begin with the description of the country or state. The history of its geographical attributes or how it came to be. Then eventually describe a province/region. Slowly, move forward to a town and finally, the street, the neighborhood.
When talking about its people, you can start with their social history, their key occupations, changing lifestyle, perspective and worldview. Depending on your story, begin with whatever you find is relevant.
Place > Landscape > Effects
Time > Prominent Details > Effects
Weather/Climate > Effects
People/Society > Physical Settings > Population > Major Occupations > Economy > Ideology > Lifestyle
Main Characters > How he/she is > Why > How does it build their character
Only mention details that are relevant to your story, the details that are either a cause or effect of something important inside the story.
Use all 5 senses
Most authors make the mistake of only making their writings a visual experience. Go 4 steps ahead by making it a multi-dimensional, multi-sensory writing.
For example: The sun shone bright in the open sky. The road stretched for as far as eyes could see. What an endless journey it felt.
The description feels complete but it can be improved.
Improvised example: The sun shone bright in the blue-ish sky. We could feel its warmth on our skin, while the smell of lemonade and margaritas filled the car. Humming to songs of Imagine Dragons, we swayed our way forward. Looking at the far-stretching road, the journey seemed never-ending.
Using all the senses makes the description visceral, helping the reader to imagine the scene more vividly. It will engage and hook your readers by making the read interesting.
Show, don’t tell!
While, unnecessarily lengthy descriptions can make the eyelids of readers feel heavy, saying everything too uprightly can also be boring.
For example: “He was happy”
There is nothing left to imagine. He was happy and that was all. But, what if
Improvised example: His wide smile stretched to his ears, leaving eyes shine brightly. The excitement in his words when he talked and those joyous expressions gave his happiness away. There was no way one could look like that without feeling ecstatic.
It lets the reader participate in what is going on it the story and also keeps him interested in what is coming.
When it comes to settings of the story, you ought to remember the old saying: if you were from where they are from and you were taught what they were taught, you would believe what they believe. Because, this is the dominant goal of the setting – to make the reader be a part of the story, to make the reader identify himself with it, to make the reader believe.