Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Setting

First off, congratulations to Ruth. She won my contest hosted by Kelly Hashway.

I've never understood that common thought in the writing community that setting should be another character. I've often thought setting wasn't really that important. Yet, I've often been told I'm good at setting. Ironic, because the  only thing I've ever really done to achieve a "quality" setting is write places and cultures I know.

I recently realized whether I knew it or not I've been good at setting, because I understood one thing. Whether a writer a hits you over the head with setting or not, a story takes place where it does for a reason. It could only happen to these characters in this setting. My husband's family is visiting from India right now. They've made it perfectly clear they're not fans of U.S. culture. My father-in-law picked my copy of Climbing the Stairs up and began reading it. Denying the whole time, that it's a romance novel. Finally, he admitted it was a romance, but there was a lot about Indian culture woven into it. This is true, because it's set in India during World War II. In that moment, I realized all books have culture woven intricately into them. A story can only happen in that setting.

That's when I realized I'm good at setting, because I write places I know well. I set stories in a culture I understand (a culture that I don't always agree with). When I start a new story, I think where does it make sense for this to happen. My brain links back to places I've lived and things I've seen and generates a match. This will almost always be in the South, since that's where I spent most of my life. Once I know my character's world, I move on to writing. That's it. That's all I do to be "good" at setting.


  1. Like you I never really focus on setting, but you're right. The setting does have to be woven throughout the story and make sense for the story. And I too write about places I know.

  2. Very interesting post. I need to get my head around this. Have a great week.

    1. Carole, I couldn't find your email address on your blog, but I wondered if you would be interested in reviewing Kismet. I'd send you a reviewer's copy, if you're interested just let me know.

  3. Great post, Beth. Even though I create my own settings, I do extensive research to make sure they're realistic for the location. For my YA horror book, I had to research the historical background of the town I based mine on. No point talking about coal mines when the state has never had coal mines.

  4. I guess you could look at setting as a character in that context, then -- each character is going to react differently to the setting (love it, hate it, find it oppressive, find it soothing, etc), and can set about to act on or be acted on by the setting (changing their surroundings literally or metaphorically, or have their setting threatened in some way.) Good post.