How about a look-see at settings today, given we touched upon scenes in the last editing post?
Setting relates to time and location/place in fiction—the “milieu” in which a tale transpires. There can be ethnic, political, and communal components, as well as mood or ambiance. Setting can be very specific (year and city) or it can be descriptive (a dilapidated warehouse on an industrial waterfront).
Settings can be a major facet of the story or merely serve as background, and whatever your choice, use description, dialog, actions and reactions to help establish it.
Don’t shy away from using setting as a conflict for your plot/storyline—a place could provide friction and tension given what is happening there at the time (a flood or earthquake) or serve as a source of obstruction (lack of people or resources during dire moments).
Example: Despite the excruciating pain, Ted shakily tied another strip of cloth around his bleeding leg. The nearest cottage was two miles away, through dense woodland. To boot, heavy wet snow was falling more intensely now. Could his young brother, Jason, make it safely there and back?
Time: the duration [of time] a story spans or the actual period (22nd century, Dark Ages, 1950s).
Ethnic, political and communal components may affect characters in different ways, considering the era, perceptions and sentiments.
A dark rainy night will impart a different impression or feeling than a bright sunny day. An incident at Easter may be perceived differently than one occurring at Halloween. Give thought to what sort of emotions you’d like to invoke in your readers and how you might do that through various and varying time factors. Think about time passing by, running out, seemingly [or truly] standing still.
Don’t forget symbolic connotations: a sunrise can signify birth or rebirth; a brilliant sun and sky might represent hope or success (a positive factor); night could symbolize something mysterious or perilous, or unknown.
Example A: Knowing the robbers were close behind, John anxiously rode along the raging river. Jamestown wasn’t far off. Hopefully, everything there was all right, given the unsavory group who’d visited last month.
Example B: Knowing the stage-robbers were close behind, John anxiously urged his mount along the raging river. Jamestown wasn’t far off, but who knew what he’d find there, given the vicious band of civil-war renegades who’d ridden through last month—then returned.
Location/place: where the story is set, such as a country or state, city or town, neighborhood or woodland, or even an alternative world.
While the location can be fictional—like planet Xaltoxon3B—it still needs to smack of realism. Give thought as to how you “paint” that setting. Add famous buildings and popular parks, lakes and rivers, celebrations (some towns have decades-old fairs and parades), distinctive culinary delights.
When a setting takes place in a particular country or historical period, remember that there are language nuances, traditional dress and/or uniforms, never mind different modes of travel (to name but a few).
Do your due diligence—get to know the location(s) and place(s) you’re writing about, even if they’re truly fictional (envision them).
Example A: Larry and Jeena ambled along the park in the cool weather, feeding ducks and squirrels. They stopped to watch a group of excited tourists take countless photos.
Example B: Embracing the brisk March weather, Larry and Jeena ambled along the Boston Common, feeding ever-hungry ducks and scampering squirrels. Amused by eager tourists taking photos by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, they decided to stop and offer local history.
Mood/ambiance/atmosphere: a feeling the story aims to convey (dark and mysterious, animated and fun, sad and forlorn).
Express mood through all features—narrative, dialog, actions and reactions.
Exterior factors—such as weather and climate, season and temperature—can influence events and incidents, and characters’ feelings or outlooks. Christmas, for example, would normally be a happy time . . . unless your character had an exceptionally bad experience one year. Nothing like adding twists and turns and flips to affect mood and/or add emotion (like excitement or tension).
Show, don’t tell. Be descriptive, but not overly so that you create that snoozzze effect. Provide details through dialog, too. Mix it up.
Descriptions and details will give life to your settings. Be vivid. Ensure they’re clear, convincing and credible (even if they’re not real).
Example A: Whistling, Johnny walked along the traffic-heavy street and nodded to passersby on his way home.
Example B: Whistling a 90s boy-band song, Johnny sauntered along a litter-lined Brooklyn street and nodded to passersby scurrying to get out of the December cold. Droning traffic and raucous music from various clubs and shops wouldn’t dampen his mood. He could smell the cream-heavy mac-n-cheese and feel the cheer waiting at home.
Consider adding smells, sights, sounds, and tastes. You can be subtle or calculated, detailed or vague—but ensure your “place” enables the story/plot to bloom and blossom. As the artist, you have a vast canvas–the page. Have at it, my friends.