I sit here at my desk, the 60 scenes of Nephilim staring down at me from behind my laptop, trying not to elbow the hot mug of tea sitting to my right. The post it notes are scattered haphazardly across my desk, and my kids loudly play YuGiOh behind me.
Setting is one of those things that some readers don’t think about, and others think about too much. I’m one of the former, mostly. During beta sessions, it was pointed out to me that I didn’t create setting for ordinary places, but did so for out of the ordinary places.
Setting helps settle the reader into the story. It gives that little extra information to help the reader imagine the story in their mind. But too little, or too much can take away from the story.
Have you ever come across a novel which opens with dialogue, but you have no idea where the characters are? It’s most likely an attempt to get straight to the plot. There are some things you can leave to the readers imagination, but the setting of your novel is important- is this dystopian, fantasy, set in the modern world, or in space? Writing a few lines to explain WHERE the characters are will go a long way to helping immerse the reader.
Too much setting
The complete opposite of the above, of course, is too much setting. Like, an entire two pages of setting before we even get to the characters. I’ve done this, back in university with the first novel I ever finished writing. Because I wanted the readers to know exactly what the city looked like. Because I had created it from scratch.
Any large block of information within a novel, like setting or exposition or purple prose or what the characters look like can draw the reader out of the novel. it’s too much all at once. Now, fantasy novels- especially high fantasy- are given a little leeway with this, but short, sweet descriptions of setting every scene is usually more than enough.
If you’ve already described a setting with some detail, and established it as a regular setting, you don’t need to describe it again. And this does happen. You only need to describe a setting if its new.
But, you still need to set the scene. If the setting is a regular one, there is no problem picking one or two focal points within that setting- patchwork sofa, harsh light- as a constant reminder for the readers to help resituate them with the setting.
It’s very important within your setting that the reader knows where they are, and that the setting doesn’t change on a whim. If you’ve already set the scene, you need to make sure that you keep the setting the same. Having windows and doors in different places in two different scenes, or having the layout of the building magically change after a couple of chapters is going to confuse your readers.
I draw a map on a post it note if I have an outdoor setting, and always find a blueprint for buildings- something I can refer to so everything stays the same.
There is no point in having a setting if your characters don’t interact with it. Are your characters walking through a forest? Then have them walking on twigs, or pushing branches out of their way. Are the characters in a kitchen? Then for crying out loud, have them eat food, or go through the cupboards. You can bring setting details within action tags to make everything more natural.
And you don’t need to just include visual elements of the setting. Use all five senses. What can your characters hear, or smell or feel? All these little details can really add up, and help fully immerse your readers into your story.
Good thoughts and happy writing.