Common Setting Problems And How To Fix Them

Failure to Understand the “Depth” of a Setting
A story’s setting comprises more than buildings and roads and flora and mountains in the background. Setting involves an entire environment: furniture, weather, people, tolls, toys, clutter, lighting, odors. In a word, details. The ambiance you seek to create comes from carefully selecting telling detail.

Failure to Use Words as Symbols of Atmosphere and Mood
Make the sentences in your narrative do double, even triple duty. A room, for example, can evoke both mood and atmosphere by the deft use of detail. Using the detail to suggest something more than appearance is sometimes overlooked.

Failure to Evoke All the Senses in Descriptions of Setting
A setting is sometimes thought of as a kind of picture we see in our minds. True enough. But the visual image is only part of the material we have at our disposal to create a sense of place. There are sounds that can be evoked, smells we can be reminded of. References to taste can make us recall similar gustatory experiences. Nudging all the reader’s senses can make the difference between a black-and-white still life and theatre-in-the-round.

Isolating Description From the Narrative Line
Let the background of your story come to life through your characters’ thoughts, dialogue and actions. No matter how beautifully you describe a room, a season, a day, or whatever, your reader is apt to skip over it in order to pick up the thread of the narrative—thereby losing, of course, much that is essential to your story.


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