Curious how writers know just how to integrate setting in a story?
The concept of setting in a story can seem like a daunting task at first. You want to be sure that your readers are invested in your setting. You want them to feel as if they are taking part in the story alongside your characters. Learning how to write the setting of a story in interesting, provocative ways can help you to achieve the balance you desire in order to satisfy both yourself and your readers.
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Settings in writing can be found in all genres and can vary in terms of realism and fantasy. What is a setting if not something that places readers in the moment, smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi River with Tom Sawyer or visiting the pyramids in Egypt? Setting in a story, poem, or other form of writing is where much of the magic of writing takes shape. Writers are more able to reach their full potential and take farther strides when they have a thoroughly convincing setting to work around.
The setting of your writing is the backdrop upon which you will add and peel the layers of your work. Whether you are writing short stories, novels, plays, or poetry, there is always a setting at work. Some might think it crazy that a setting can exist within one line, or even one word, but it is possible. That is where the magic truly lies, after all. When writers can instill setting and deeper meaning into a mere word or phrase, they are gifted with a knowledge of setting that goes beyond a reader's wildest imagination. Take Shakespeare, for example. In Julius Caesar, there is a line that reads, "A dish fit for the gods." There are many perspectives through which this quote can be construed differently, but let's just look at a couple possible ways of understanding it:
1) Out of Shakespearean context, readers might see the line and think of a truly sumptuous, delicious meal placed before them. They might picture an array of platters and candles lining the table for a more romantically styled meal, or they might picture themselves all by their lonesome, retreating from their hunger as they eat up the delectable treats before them.
2) Either in or out of Shakespearean context, some readers might read the line and picture Zeus or some other godly being/mythical character slaying his/her meal before it is officially prepared. It might be looked at as unworthy of being eaten by anyone other than these godly beings. Someone might picture the setting to be a royal chamber where gold and silver line the hallways and large Greek-like columns adorn the entryways.
However you choose to view that one line is how the setting in a story transpires for you as the writer or the reader. Despite wanting your readers to see your writing in the way that you have seen it while writing it, you also want them to allow their imaginations to have the luxury of viewing the writing in their own ways, from their own perspectives. This allows readers to embrace the exactitude of your writing with open minds. Your writing can be right-on-the-nose in terms of how the characters are mapped out, how the plot thickens, and how the conflicts ensue (hence the exactitude), but providing the backdrop and setting in a story, poem, etc. is vital to readers remaining convinced of your writing prowess.
For all those who love to read and/or watch TV and movies, we have a keen advantage. We know how to immerse ourselves within the setting in a story and have it prepare us for the intensity or calmness that is to come. We can use our imaginations to see ideas in ways that are familiar to us from different settings we have already seen, heard about, read about, etc. For example, in the first example above about "a dish fit for the gods," the first perspective shared about the sumptuous, delicious meal being placed before the characters is reminiscent, at least in my opinion, of Harry Potter. That story setting incorporated a Great Hall in which Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins ate their meals, celebrated their successes, and mourned their setbacks. However, when I pictured that wonderful feast in the first example, I saw the tables in the Great Hall. In order to make the setting more unique to whatever location is within the new story being written, I would have needed a bit more context, but my imagination fixed itself on a setting I already knew well, which increased my emotional connectivity to the new idea. Since I liked the first story I read with this type of setting, the next book would probably be to my liking as well. There is obviously no guarantee of this fact, but the likelihood, as long as the setting remains riveting, is strong.
As another example of how imagination impacts setting, take a single word: "blimp." When you think of word meaning from context, you can consider a blimp to be something that hovers in the sky, what someone is called when they gain too much weight, or you might even think of something that falls closer to home for you, like "Blimpy Burger" for me, which is located on the campus where I went to college. Setting in a story like one about a blimp in the sky (if "blimp" is used in that context to begin with) can help make for a story about a blimp that makes its way around the world without anyone directing it in the appropriate direction. If used in the context of a heavy-set person, you might have a story set at a fat camp, and how one little girl or boy is determined to get out of there no matter what the cost in order to attend the music camp down the road which will help that child pursue his or her lifelong dream to learn to play the piano professionally. If used in the context of a restaurant, setting a story in a restaurant where the customers are all thin and eat every day in "Blimpy Burger" might make for some humorous irony.
Once again, the setting in a story is vital to the story's ebb and flow. Story settings in writing can take the form of almost anything. Writers must harness the creativity that they know is flowing through them and relate to their readers on the levels through which they will most certainly grasp the realism or fantasy that is sure to keep them reading into the night and constantly looking for your next book on the bookstore or library shelf. Discounting the worth of a great setting in a story will certainly keep you from impressing yourself and by extension, your readers. Once you feel like you belong in your story, your readers will have a much easier time feeling that way as well.
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