1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Is it really important?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by deadrats, Dec 6, 2017.

    How important is setting, really? I've read some books where the setting almost takes on a life of it's own, and it can be quite wonderful. But there are a lot more writers who seem pretty bare bones when it comes to setting specifics. I'm not sure how important to make the setting to my story. How did you guys figure it out?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I got more game than Parker Brothers...

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    Depends on how much work you need the setting to do. Look at, say, Star Trek vs. The Simpsons. The former is set in outer space and various planets where setting is everything and just about every episode has a new setting as its driving engine. The latter is set in an anonymous American town (which is a unique setting, I suppose) and not terribly important as far as the stories are constructed.

    I tend to look at the milieu or zeitgeist of the settings rather than the setting itself when I write. I just find the mentality and environment of the times more interesting than the technology or geographic location. So if I were to write something set in the turn of the century, steamships and top-hats wouldn't interest me much, but watching Liberalism and the Enlightenment get sawed in half by Nationalism and the early inklings of demagoguery, propaganda, and mass politics (Fascism on the Right, Communism on the Left) would.

    (side note: some terms are capitalized to denote their classic inceptions, not their modern interpretations)

    And of course fantasy and sci-fi lean on it more than anything. Oftentimes that's just about the only thing their respective authors show any particular aptitude for.

    Short answer: every story has a setting, but that setting could be mission-critical or unnoteworthy.
     
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  3. Joe Palmer

    Joe Palmer New Member

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    Some tend to write complex pictorical settings (painting with words) in order to make the actions and reactions of their characters believably inserted in a context which influences or determines them. In other words the characters and context are just as, or more, important that the narrative. At the other extreme the narrative, what happens, is most important. It's two ends of a continuum.
    PS. The setting can obviously be developed through, or at the same time as, the narrative.
     
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  4. crappycabbage

    crappycabbage Member

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    I feel that setting can't really help a story if it's lacking good characters and plot, so I place setting third in importance. That's just me though. Ask an avid worldbuilder and they might disagree. Since I'm not a pre-planning worldbuilder, I make my settings quite small and easy to manage in the beginning, but they grow around the characters like fungus after a few chapters, often a lot more than I first intended. After the first draft I'm usually more invested in the setting than I thought I would be, which is probably a good thing since I write fantasy adventures. :D
    Setting descriptions... Still my least favourite task though. I'm always scared it will be boring and get in the way of pacing, so I go back and forth on description all the time, and it makes my revision process long. I always admire writers who can write a lot of setting description in an interesting and fun way, and just pull me along effortlessly. That's a real skill, and one that I wish I had. :)
     
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  5. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I think it depends on how important the town itself is to the story. That includes the buildings and the people and culture.

    In To Kill a Mockingbird, Maycomb, AL was completely irrelevant to the story. It only had to be a conservative southern town in the 60s. The story could easily be transposed into any other southern town at the time and it would work.

    Same with Of Mice and Men. It doesn't really matter where they are. Even the farm itself is largely irrelevant because it does not have any affect on the events that take place. I don't even remember where it was supposed to take place, but it literally could have been anywhere rural in the USA during the depression.


    In It, Derry, ME is so deeply intertwined with the main villain Pennywise, that you couldn't simply up and move the story to any generic town. It required the deep history of tragedy and violence that Pennywise caused through the centuries.

    Likewise in Jaws, Amity's economy is paramount to the mayors decision to keep the beaches open. The movie has people doing things who's motives are not clear or don't even make sense (like the mayor's,) but they make total sense when you understand that the way the town works (like the mob controls the mayor.)
     
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  6. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Setting is nearly always irrelevant to me as a reader, and I carry that through to my writing. In each scene I want to be able to picture where the characters are doing their thing, but it only takes a few words - tell me they're at a park, and that's enough. I know what a park looks like. I don't need lingering descriptions of the shade of the grass and the fact that there's a pond to the east and a playground to the west, unless those things are important to the plot.

    There are exceptions, as people have mentioned, but they're few and far between. I tend to skip setting description as a reader, because it's dull.
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Like so many other things, if you funnel your setting 'descriptions' through the eyes of your POV character, you can usually pull it off. But this means the character will only notice what is important to them at the time.

    If the setting is peaceful, they might notice one or two things that make them feel calmed down—or feel the urge to sit down and watch the sunset/sunrise/children playing/sunlight glinting off ripples in the pond, etc. Or a building they notice in the distance might trigger a memory that's important to the story. Or they notice that something's not right, and begin to tick off the things that seem okay ...till they get to the thing that isn't. They will smell certain odors, maybe feel a breeze, or sunshine on bare skin, or the first drops of rain. Or they have to crane their necks to see the top of a skyscraper, and realise they're behaving like tourists while the rest of the city streams around them. OR they worry about not being able to climb a tall staircase, or they get to the top of a hill path and decide to run down the other side, hell for leather.

    Make the setting matter to the POV character, and it will matter to the reader. However, if you just paint a pretty picture for several paragraphs then plonk the character in the middle of it, that doesn't usually work so well.
     
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  8. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm using place and setting right now to kinda take a satire approach to the way this place is looked upon I'm trying to deliberately distort it make it grander, goofier more golden. My descriptions are as necessary and detailed as I need them to set the tone, remind the reader where they are and drive home that idea that this place is becoming more an icon to poke fun at.
    I think if your story is more mystery / thriller -- I just read two Shari Lapena thrillers and they were pretty bare bones description and it suited the fast passed style -- then you're good to go. If you're into world building you may want to have something more meaty -- think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory perhaps the biggest, bestest place book ever in which the factory has more character than all the characters combined.
    It has to do with the stories goals. If the place is key -- than it needs its due. If it can be any old place than the descriptions should probably take a backseat to the plot.
    It's the difference perhaps say Rebecca with her Manderley and any old house in a mystery.
     
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  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Skip setting descriptions... hmmm... I will say I've done this, but I'm not sure I should. I guess that is part of my problem. I want my stories to feel full and alive and real. Can that be done without setting descriptions? Of course, it can. I recently made a really big sale (the biggest of my life) and there is very little description of setting. There is one scene where the setting becomes important to the story briefly, but that's one or two sentences. In my novel, though, I'm not sure if more setting would better ground the story. @Tenderiser -- I know you've published a novel or have an agent. I hope I'm remembering right, but did your editor or agent ever mention anything about the setting or lack of description of the setting?
     
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  10. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Nope! Non-publishing-professional readers haven't noticed the almost total lack of setting description either: I don't recall any feedback along the lines of, "I can't picture this," or "I'd like to see more description." It could have happened and I just don't remember, but it certainly isn't common feedback for me.
     
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  11. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Probably because humans don't really think about their setting so much.

    Think of the last dream you remember. Where were you? Did you even have a location or was it a series of events that just seemed to happen in a vague void? Dreams tend not to have well defined locations because that's not how humans think about events, we care about the focus.

    Here is a great example to demonstrate how little we care about background. We've all seen the image of the Hinderburg disaster. Very iconic. What else is in that photo? (Don't look it up.) Can you picture anything other than the blimp? There's actually quite a bit of setting in the picture, but nobody sees it.
     
  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I agree, although I think that's why novels in which the setting is almost a character in itself can be very powerful - they tap into something we don't usually experience. I think one of the reasons Perfume (Siskind) is one of my favourite novels is that it's centred around the most neglected sense in fiction: smell. It takes me into a whole new world, because day-to-day I'm hardly ever thinking about scents.

    Also... I really don't think I've seen that Hindenburg photo. :eek:
     
  13. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Setting is a tool. I've found that it can be used to set a mood, imply danger (and thereby increase tension) or even to control pace. One of the reasons I like Michener's writing do much is that he used setting almost as a character in its own right. I felt like I'd actually been to the places he wrote about.

    I think, though, it's important to avoid using setting just for its own sake. It should help shape the story. Otherwise, it's just filler.
     
  14. Damien Loveshaft

    Damien Loveshaft Member

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    I only focus on settings when I feel it's really important like describing non-earth terrain, foreshadowing something, or setting up a complex action in the area that requires certain knowledge to comprehend.
     
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  15. Trish

    Trish Lost.. got any breadcrumbs I can follow? Supporter Contributor

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    Which one?
    There's one with a tower in it and a bunch of people, vehicles, etc. on the ground I think? And there's one where the tower is engulfed and there's fire shooting out of the nose and there are people all around on the ground. I actually do remember the setting, because I remember wondering how those people weren't just fucking running.
    (Also though, my son is extremely interested in things like that so I've probably been exposed to the photos quite a bit more than the average person).

    I usually remember where I am in dreams I remember too though. I may not where it is (because it isn't named and I've never been there) but I could describe it. Most people don't do that?

    To answer the OP's question though, setting is as important as it needs to be. If it's important that it's snowing, I mention it's snowing. If it's important that there's a drought, you mention the drought. I think the level of setting description is what changes (for me) depending on the points I need to make. Of course, I tend to write 1st person, so things are only ever mentioned if the MC notices them.

    EDIT: I put my observations/question about the Hindenburg pic in a spoiler so as not to ruin your point for anyone else.
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM
  16. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    In terms of setting, Staging it a favorite tool of mine. Here is a clip from a thread I posted on Staging 6 months ago.

     

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