The setting within your story
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
You might think this is the same thing as world building, and it sort of is, but the setting is more of the minute details within a story. The biggest difference between the two is that your setting is where a scene takes place, and world building is where your story exists, but the latter will still affect the former.
Where is your character?
First thing’s first: where’s your character? No one is in a void…unless they are, but even that is a setting that needs development. When you’re writing where your characters are, your reader only knows as much as you tell them. I want to talk a little bit about setting in a micro and a macro level.
When you’re writing your scene, keep in mind that your setting is going to affect your character in a big way. Maybe your character is a small-town girl who is moving to the big city, and she’s just arrived. She’s going to be scared, unsure of exactly how to handle herself around a buncha high-falutin’ city folk, and possibly wishing that she had never moved in the first place because it’s just so much.
On the flip side, if you put someone who is used to finery into some podunk town with dirt and what they could consider to be “simple folk,” it’s going to be hell on earth for them, adjusting to their surroundings. Think Schitt’s Creek and how the Rose family is in complete shock and denial the moment they set foot into their new home, and it takes them ages to adjust. Dan Levy has done a beautiful job of showing how the setting affects the characters.
We have to remember in the small details to write as readers rather than writers and not keep it all in our heads. These are going to be the smells, sounds, temperature, even if there’s dust floating in the sunlight coming through the window when a character disturbs an old book. Every move that your character makes is interacting with the setting you have, and the reader needs to know how that happens. As mentioned in the “Show, Don’t Tell” blog post, however, you don’t have to go overboard describing the small things in the room, but we do need to see what the character is seeing.
Oh, God, it’s the outside!
Inevitably, your character is going to be going outside during your story, unless your story is set entirely on a space station in which there is no going outside, but those will be the exceptions to this. Just like in the section above, your character is going to be affected by what’s happening in the out of doors. So what is your outside going to do?
The first thing you’ll want to think about is the weather. There are many ways the weather can affect your characters: Is it going to be hot? Cold? Rainy? Is it going to rain on your character while they’re traveling and put them in a bad mood?
Your weather can entirely change your scene from romantic to miserable very easily. For example, two lovers who are on a picnic for a romantic proposal could have their moment ruined by a sudden torrent of rain. Or, on a more dangerous scale, your character could have to travel in a sudden heatwave and end up with heatstroke.
Ugh, bugs. Bugs are a huge reason why I don’t go outside. Nature is chock full of pests and beautiful things, there is no escaping them until the winter, and even then, there are still insects that are active in cold temperatures.
A lot of times, we don’t give our characters the option of choosing where they are, and we make them miserable because authors suffer from Schadenfreude when it comes to our characters. So, when your characters are outside, what kind of pests are there to bother them? Do you have bees in the garden that your character is severely allergic to? Gnats flying at your character’s eyes while they try to find their way?
Keeping track of time
This is something a lot of authors struggle with both in the short term and the long term. Readers need to be aware of how time is passing, and we can drop hints in there without having to say, “Now that it’s evening.” Tell your reader how the moon is starting to come out, and the air is chilling a bit. Or, if your lovers have been talking all night, talk about how the birds are waking up, and their chirps are interrupting the character’s chatting.
In the long term, your reader—and characters—need to know what time of year it is. This will determine where your characters are going, what they’re wearing, how their friendships are developing, and the list goes on. The longer a character is in a place, the more the reader needs to know how time is passing with them.
Lastly, if you’re writing a story that takes more than one book to tell, make sure to show the time changes on your character. Has your character started to get wrinkles around their eyes? White in their brows and hair? We need to make sure that our characters keep up with the story and aren’t stuck in a perpetual void of youth.
Join us next week for the next installment of our Misused Writing Advice series where we talk about limiting your points of view.
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