Friday, July 31, 2009

Settings: The Importance of Place

Prong, pavé, channel, bezel — how a diamond is set makes all the difference. It’s the same with the setting of a story. A setting isn’t there to prop up the tale, it’s there to enhance it, like black velvet behind a diamond. If you were showcasing a different stone, onyx or smoky topaz, the jeweler’s cloth would have to change. Otherwise there’s not enough contrast and the stone’s facets recede. Not only is choosing the right setting important, but so is selecting the aspects of it that best reveal your characters, enhance your story and subtly support your theme. Establishing a strong sense of place grounds readers with a feeling of “having been there.” To edit for setting, you need to know the place, but necessarily to have been there. Pulitzer prize winning journalist turned crime novelist John Sandford says settings don’t have to be exact, just “credible for [the] neighborhood.” Without the right details on geography, locale, season and time of day, it’s hard to imbue a piece with depth. Seasons are especially useful, as in spring for renewal, winter for death, summer for the heat of passion and fall for that ominous sense of “something wicked this way comes.”

To put today's musing into action, check out the writing tip at the top of the list, and let me know how it goes.

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