Divas On Writing: Where The Heck Are We?
Recently I read a book for my personal book blog The Flirty Reader that left me scratching my head, and it wasn’t because of a confusing plotline or lack of development. It was the lack of proper setting. In this book the author used many words with British spelling, which would indicate to me that the book would not be American based. While the spelling of these words is not a problem, the fact that the author never really demonstrated in the first half of the book where the setting was is the real issue. Were we in London, Toronto, or Sydney? I had no clue. We could have been in America but as the reader, I had no frame of reference of which I could pull from to properly picture where the book took place.
Now, is nondescript settings a problem? Yes and no. The problem lies in the fact that readers will have trouble relating to a story if the setting is pushed in the background or not explained well. Not only will it affect your readers but your story as well. Take, for example, your characters going to the pub, but you have hinted that the setting of your story takes place in the South. Pubs are great but are primarily used in reference to bars in the UK. Americans will call a bar a pub but it’s not mainstream, especially in what we consider the South in the States. So the question is: Is your story set in the deep South of the US or down south somewhere else? The reader is then left confused.
On the other side of the coin, limiting the “tell” in setting but having the reader figure it out through other “hints” is perfectly fine. If your setting is New York City, there are many ways to describe in your book the setting without really stating it’s The Big Apple. This is where research comes in handy. Diva Janine wrote a nice article about research HERE.
What can you do to make your setting effective for your readers?
- Before you begin writing, figure out what, when, and where. It’s important to get your basics down before you write your first page. If you don’t, your story can end up rudderless.
- Allow your setting to relate to your characters. For instance say your setting is Boston, how would you use your character’s Boston roots for their development?
- Stay true to your setting. This is again where I tell you research will come in handy. The amount of research you do will make the difference in the end.
- Don’t lead your readers on a scavenger hunt. With the book that I read for my blog, I ended up reading the author bio and learning that she was Canadian. This helped explain the British spellings but still not more about the setting. The point was that I was pulled away from the book to answer my questions about the book. Make sure that your setting is solid.
Using these tips can help with setting but the best advice I can give you is to read some established authors and learn how they show their settings. Whether it be a fictional city or real one, learn how they show the setting and integrate it into their work.