Last week we talked about hooks that begin and end scenes. This week we’ll switch gears a little and talk about setting. Not just the importance of the overall setting for a book, but what purpose setting can serve for each individual chapter or scene.
For me, setting is excellent for doing one or more of these three things in each scene.
1) Establishing general information for the reader
This is one of the basic reasons we use setting in a book. To reveal to the reader a time or place. To create a world for them based on a time period, geography (fictional or real), which also means everything from location in the world to location like a specific house or landmark in a town. This includes time of the day and the conditions of those days, such as weather.
2) Creating a mood or a feeling
Setting a story in a particular place is often an important decision and integral to the make-up of a book. This becomes even more important when you break it down into chapters. If your character is feeling worried or upset or scared, having them deal with these thoughts during a thunderstorm or in the dark of night helps enhance their feelings. Likewise, a walk or picnic in sunshine can either help display your characters feelings of buoyancy and happiness or work as an interesting contract to opposite feelings. Does the sun irritate them? Do they snatch down shades because it’s too bright or make faces at flowers and families picnicking in a park because it contrasts with their feelings? Using bits and pieces of a setting, even a particular place or time of year, can create a particular mood or enhance a character’s thoughts and bring more depth to a scene.
3) Grounding characters
This is one of my favorite uses of setting. Grounding my characters in the setting, which involves letting them engage in their surroundings. It’s a great way to SHOW the reader about the setting and SHOW them more about the character at the same time.
This might look like a character gripping tightly to a water glass or spinning it in circles on a table if they’re out to dinner. This allows them to interact with their surroundings, showing us more about where they are instead of them hovering in any random place, and also reveals more about the character. They’re nervous or worried or naturally fidgety.
It could also look like a character strolling through a forest and stopping to snatch up a twig and use it to knock against the trees as they walk. More information about where the character is. Or the character could be kicking with abrupt swipes at loose pebbles on the ground to show they’re angry.
Letting your characters interact with their surroundings is a great way to bring a setting to life and show instead of tell how they’re feeling. It also helps give your reader a sense of location instead of hovering in the character's head for too long, not knowing where they are or what they're doing while they're thinking or talking.
Setting can be a great asset to building a plot beyond events and characters beyond simple characteristics. What are some ways you enjoy using setting in your stories or what are some interesting ways you’ve seen settings used in stories you’ve read?