The Writer's Bag of Tricks
I volunteer for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers because they are a non-profit educational organization who teaches the craft of writing mass market fiction for writers of all skill levels. Their annual conference in September is like attending four years of craft classes crammed into three days. Yeah. It’s gratuitous product placement for anyone wanting to learn writing craft, but it is important to learn craft if you want to be successful. One of the things I do for RMFW currently is I co-chair the Colorado Gold Writing Contest. I am an organizer, not a judge this year, but I do read all the judges critiques as they come back in from scoring. One of the consistent comments from the judges has been about setting or lack of setting, to be more specific.
What is setting? Setting is the world, (city, home, environment, etc. ) where your story takes place. It also includes time (modern, historical, future), and setting is one of the craft elements to writing fiction that is imperative for readers to know when and where your story is taking place. Setting also includes weather, politics, time of day, culture, geography, climate, mood etc. Without setting, your readers will be confused. You, the author, may know where your story is taking place, but your readers will not.
To create setting, be sure to include information important to the location and time of your story in your opening chapter. Setting is something you also layer in your chapters over the progress of your plot. Use details and provide clues to your reader so they can visualize when and where your character exists. Mix these details in with the action. Describe the inside of the room where the action takes place. Not in a loaded paragraph of description, but bit by bit, as your character discovers the room. Use your characters five senses to help the reader experience the room. What does the place smell like? What does it sound like? How does the culture of your world effect your character? Weave together all these elements of imagery, and let your reader know, see, feel, taste, smell your character’s world.
You can also use figures of speech (metaphors and similes) to help your reader interpret the story world. Personification (the attribution of human nature to something nonhuman) can sometimes work well to embody some quality into your setting. Some writers use onomatopoeia. Some writers use repetition to emphasize something that is important (be careful not to overuse repetition).
Keep in mind that setting is description, but it’s not paragraphs of description. Too much description slows your story’s pace, is boring, and feels very info dumpy (yes, that’s a technical term). But, I’d rather read something with too much setting and set-up than none at all. It is easier for your reader to skip words than to have to add them from their imagination. If it is too much work for your reader to figure out where or when your story is taking place then probability says they will put your book down and pick up something else. So, make it easy for your reader to interpret your story world. They will keep turning pages, and that is a very good thing.