What do I see?

Stories are set somewhere. It’s either background or part of the story in how it interacts with those who travel therein, or the character interacts with it in some way.

We do not exist in white space.

And yet I read stories where it’s completely missing. There is nothing to visualise or imagine, no hint as to time or place. Just a little bit will do, enough for me to use my previous life history to make something of what the story is set against.

Are there hills? Do these hills affect the weather and what grows? Are there houses, neighbours, shopping areas? Are we in the country with the noises of machinery, animals, trucks moving fast on long roads?

It’s important to have a setting.

Or we don’t know where we are as we read.

And when I read, I like to go somewhere, be in the moment, in a place that’s wondrous or different or easily recognisable. I like to see it, feel it, smell it, touch it, taste it, be part of it.

Take me to that time and place by giving me enough info to be there.

I know, I’ve done a setting thing before, but each week I read and critique several pieces of work, and each week there seems to be a theme on the things I notice most about what’s missing from the stories. This week, again, it’s stories that lack place, time, grounding.

Even if a story is basically a good concept and interesting characters, what’s the point if the reader (me) can’t imagine it because the setting is missing?

Give me a home where the buffalo roam … or something like that so I know where I am, when I am, as well as who I am for this story.

And if you want to be part of a critiquing community, why not try critters.org – you have to give as good as you get, though, so be prepared (and there are rules!). I’d love to see a few more contributors to the mystery, thriller, adventure group, too.

14 thoughts on “What do I see?

  1. Once you know that you will have hills, then you must determine if those hills are alive with the sound of music and will they be filled with songs that can be sung for a thousand years. Then I think that you are onto something.

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    • I think the photo is from my grandmother’s house in the country. It’s how I remember it, anyway. Nice cool places where the breeze blew a touch of coolness into the early evenings.

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  2. I agree that setting is very important. Sometimes I read books where there is no setting or little to no setting. Or, I’ll read a book with way too much information about the setting. I think the ticket is to balance it with character, plot, and the other elements of story. It’s kind of hard to gauge how much is too much and how little is too little. This is an interesting topic. Thank you for the food for thought. Excellent post! Have a great weekend and keep creating! CSA

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    • Thank you – I’m somewhat guilty of not putting in enough setting at first, but when I discovered how to make the setting part of the action and events, it felt better, and not like a dump of info that fell flat on the page.

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  3. Setting is as much a part of fiction as any flesh and blood character, but it’s generally handled differently. In scifi and fantasy, setting is often more important than in real world fiction because the Reader can’t use her existing knowledge base to imagine the world, or fill in the gaps. It’s also key because it provides the constraints against which the story unfolds. The trick is to weave the setting into the story so gently that the Reader absorbs it without being swamped by technical info. or…don’t hit me…too much lavish description. I don’t mind the odd adjective, but too many and I start to twitch. 😀

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    • I was never a fan for the type of setting description by JRR Tolkien (used to skip over it, but don’t tell anyone), and I developed a habit of leaving out too much. Now I’ve discovered the setting as an interactive part of the story and it’s much easier on me. Touch wood. Or trees, or hills, or buildings …

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  4. Yes, the details matter, develop the story and fill out the connectivity for me. Speaking of hills – I moved for that reason, to reduce the amount of puff required every day.

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