Setting – 2: More Than Just A Descriptive Vocabulary

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Have you ever tried too hard to explain the setting of a story? Count me as guilty of this crime.

Sometimes I guess that writers just visualize the world around their characters in a particular way and we want to make certain the readers can see it exactly as we do. At least, that’s what I used to think.

Nowadays I’m beginning to realize that the beauty of writing and reading lies in interpretation. Everyone reads a story differently so, naturally, they will perceive the setting slightly different than the writer intended. But this is really okay. As a writer, I know that trying too hard to find the right descriptive words can lead to a mess. And we all know that no one likes to read a mess.

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I used to describe every detail of every element of the setting…but more and more I begin to realize that each story is different. Maybe a page or two of setting description is necessary for some stories, just as very little is imperative for others. In fact, as I grow as a writer I’m realizing that how you explain and present the setting has a huge role on the novel. I can even use setting for foreshadowing, setting mood, etc. it’s really quite amazing.

I’m not saying I know everything that there is to know about writing all different kinds of settings for all sorts of novels, but I’m getting better. And that, I think, is key. When you struggle with something, you really want to work hard to make it better.

This is how I came to realize that setting is more than just a descriptive vocabulary. Setting is more than just colours and textures, weather and sounds, nature and time. Setting is all about making the reader feel like they are present in that same moment as the characters. What better way to understand setting than to imagine yourself as a character and try to imagine how they perceive the world that you have created.

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I still struggle with the generic: the green grass spread far and wide over the field before the lush forest. Mountains stood in the background, reaching for the sky. And at their feet was a forest of trees, thick and full of life.

And you could go on and on about all of this…which sounds OKAY…but to me, this sounds much better:

Before him was a vast plain of grass, bending slightly in the wind. He had to stop for a moment and take in the wide expanse that was before, fenced in by the looming forest in the distance.

I like describing the setting not as a narrator but as the character sees it…from his/her point of view. Then again, what do I know?

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So, what do you guys think? How do you approach incorporating setting into story? Do you state the facts right at the beginning or do you like to let it fall into place as you write?

Thanks for reading!

Till next,

-Will

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Categories: Photography, Writing, Writing Devices | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Setting – 2: More Than Just A Descriptive Vocabulary

  1. For me, it depends on how integral the setting is to the particular scene. For instance, if my character is, for whatever reason, running around in a crazy Mario Brothers -esque maze of some sort, well, then setting description is probably going to take up a chunk of the page. However, if it’s a relatively generic setting, like a kitchen, then it’s fine to leave it open to the reader. It all depends on genre too. Lit fic writers will describe their settings more in-depth than, say, YA writers. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing! I kind of feel the same way. Every novel is different and if you start to describe setting the same way in each novel they’ll all start to sound the same and that leaves the potential to be boring! Thanks for reading!

  2. I know what you mean 🙂 I agree with katmwehr above me as in – depends on the scene. Some scenes, I feel, don’t even need more than a quick placement. When I do want to introduce settings, I more often than not, lt my characters relate to it, or behave in a certain way that would make the setting (hopefully) evident to the reader.

    • Exactly. It’s knowing what fits best with each scene that can make your novel really interesting. I’ve read novels where there is just TOO MUCH and others where I didn’t get anything at all and left me wondering just where exactly they were. It makes writing interesting, I guess, when you try to improve yourself. If you write the same ALL THE TIME and never get better, chances are your writing is becoming boring. That’s how I feel anyways. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing! 🙂

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