Writing for Story: Setting the Stage

Empty stage with red curtain in expectation of performance

In our continuing series about writing for story, today we’re going to discuss settings. The word “set” simply means “to put (something or someone) in a particular place.” The key word in this definition is “particular.” What if Bram Stoke had set Dracula in a gingerbread cottage? Think of other books you’ve read that could have taken place only in the setting in which they were written — where setting is such an integral part of the story, it becomes another character.

Here are a few examples:

•    A Tale of Two Cities
•    Moby Dick
•    Harry Potter
•    To Kill a Mockingbird
•    Gone with the Wind

Setting is much more than just “place” – it is the time period, social surroundings, circumstances, mood/atmosphere, and, of course, location, and everything that goes with that – weather, terrain, hauntings, etc. Setting isn’t simply a backdrop mural — it can and should drive the plot forward.

If you’re writing a blog post using elements of fiction, consider your setting. Is it appropriate? Is it “particular”? Is it consistent and believable? Brainstorm a bit. Could your story be set elsewhere? How would that affect your plot? Characters? Have you implemented a number of setting characteristics into the story? In otherwords, is your setting comprised of more than simply “place”?

Research tools for setting include maps, travel, interviews (or biographies, for those who are no longer alive), and much more. As you plod through the beginning, middle, and end of your post, use sensory details to bring the reader into the setting. Include your character’s emotional reactions to his or her surroundings, thus enhancing the reader’s emotional experience. Let us sweat, dread, anticipate – whatever your character is feeling — even if that character is YOU! Setting contributes greatly to those emotions.

So, you have an idea for a great story, and you’ve “set ” your stage — now what? The first step (don’t “duh” me here, okay?) is to write it down. You’d be surprised how many writers I’ve heard say they had forgotten as many ideas as they’d completed simply because they never wrote them down.

Some may think they have to have the latest, fastest, smartest computer; a secluded cabin by the lake (or at least a nice desk chair), or fancy software in order to collect their thoughts. If you feel you must make a purchase before beginning your story, buy a notebook. Yep, a notebook. You can get whatever kind you want — decorated with green & pink polka dots or pirates or a plain one, but get one you can carry around.

Keep your notebook with you. Jot down your ideas as they come. Maybe a certain scene has flashed through your mind, but you’re not sure how (or if) it will fit into a blog post. Perhaps a bit of dialogue has haunted you, or a character is inside your head, nagging you to release him. Can you close your eyes and envision the perfect setting for a story? In blogging, we mostly deal with nonfiction, so these story ideas will likely be memories that you can weave into the point you hope to make with your post. Write down these story snippets so you’ll have these ideas to refer to when the time comes.

As you jot down your notes, don’t just put “haunted house” as your setting idea. Put as much detail as possible. Close your eyes and picture the place. Hear the stairs creak and the loose shutter banging against the building. Is it wooden? Stone? Crumbling? What color is the paint, if any? Faded and peeling? What do you smell? The stench of death? (Ah, a murder mystery in the making!) Or something unexpected, such as the aroma of fresh-baked bread? Who would be baking in an abandoned home? And why?

No matter what the setting of your story, record every detail you have come up with thus far before getting bogged down into technical things such as structure and format and grammar or even how you’ll be able to include the setting in a post. All those are important, of course, but without the a stage to host your story, they are useless.

Click here to read more posts in the Writing for Story series.

Until next time,

Happy Blogging!

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