Setting: The Difference Between Oz and Kansas

And once again, the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain rolls around. Since I left TCWT, this is the last time I’ll get the last spot on the chain, if not the last time I’ll ever participate. Hopefully this will live up to any expectations that happen to exist. This month’s prompt was:

“How much does setting affect your novels and stories? What are some of your favorite ways to portray setting?”

As anyone who’s been in a middle or high school English class knows, setting is one of the fundamental structures of literature. But, as we all also know, English classes are famous for destroying everything that is enjoyable about reading and writing. For every writer, setting should be more than something old Mrs. Whatsherface made you write three paragraphs on back in sixth grade. What’s a story without a setting? It’s a narrative floating in air, a conflict with no battleground, featuring characters with no hometown or destination.

Certainly setting has great effect on my novels and stories. Setting helps define my characters–their origins, current locations, where they travel, and where they ultimately want to be. Location always manipulates conflict in some way. One of my novels is based around land feuds between humans and dwarves. Setting doesn’t always have to directly influence the plot, but undoubtedly, it’ll be present in some way, even if it’s just a few hints of local culture sprinkled throughout or a passing mention of the scenery as the protagonist and his buddies drive through town.

I usually find telling the reader about the setting in a story tedious, and after all, as writers we’re supposed to “show, not tell.” Local culture fascinates me, and I think it’s the perfect way to give readers a strong sense of setting, and it lends an almost visceral atmosphere of place to any work of fiction. Characters’ ways of speaking, what people eat and do for fun, architecture, and landscape are all important points to hit on when portraying an area. It’s better to mention details about setting bit by bit rather than dropping several descriptive paragraphs on the reader like a ton of bricks. I always try to blend setting, characters, and action into one rich narrative stew. If all goes as hoped for, these separate elements combine into broad brushstrokes of pure fiction.

It’s difficult to look at different elements of literature as individual pieces, seeing as how they constantly react with each other, push and pull and manipulate among themselves. I’m writing this in my Latin notebook in the car, which is traveling north on the highway at dusk. My setting is affecting my action–both of which are changing me as a character at this moment. I’m pressed to finish this, as I’m losing light and will need to type it into WordPress tomorrow morning, yet I’m making slow progress, as I’m distracted by the changing scenery outside and my music. I’m hoping that my future self will leave this perhaps a little strange example in the post–greetings from the past!

Setting–physical, temporal, social–is one of the most important parts of everything I write. It can certainly be troublesome to strike that perfect balance between sparse and heavy-handed when it comes to description of place. If everything goes well, setting works with all the other facets of a story to envelope the reader completely.

Want to follow our blog chain? Here are the participating parties, day by day:

September 5–http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com–Musings From Neville’s Navel

September 6–http://oliviasopinions.wordpress.com–Olivia’s Opinions

September 7–http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com–Miriam Joy Writes

September 8–http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com–Kirsten Writes!

September 9–http://writingbeyondthemoon.blogspot.com–Beyond the Moon

September 10–http://crazyredpen.blogspot.com–Crazy Red Pen

September 11–http://ebonquill.wordpress.com–The Ebony Quill

September 12–http://realityisimaginary.blogspot.com–Reality Is Imaginary

September 13–http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com–This Page Intentionally Left Blank

September 14–http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

September 15–https://allegradavis.wordpress.com–All I Need Is A Keyboard

September 16–http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com–Teens Can Write, Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

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13 responses to “Setting: The Difference Between Oz and Kansas

  1. You have left TCWT? … I knew that. Totally.
    Great post. I’ve written in the car before, though on a laptop not in a notebook, and it’s always an interesting experience. It’s funny how different my writing is when I’m writing in an unfamiliar environment.

  2. Awesome post. You really made things clear…

    We’ll miss you, of course. Have fun without all your normal blogging responsibilities!

  3. Hi Allegra! I’ve nominated you for The Fantastic Blog Award here:

    http://weirdalocity.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/i-feel-loved-today/

  4. “English classes are famous for destroying everything that is enjoyable about reading and writing.” Very true! When I was in school I flunked English just about every year (Well I probably at least got a C or a D, or else I’d still be in the 8th grade now, but you know what I mean) and everyone got mad at me because they knew I loved to read and write. Nobody understood that English class had nothing in common with the type of reading and writing I enjoyed! I hope English classes are starting to improve a little now… maybe?

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