Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Setting Is Where Story Lives

Setting also creates mood
Among the holiday commercials one impressed me — one for diamond rings. Neil Lane, jeweler to the stars, said, "Setting is where the diamond lives." I guess I'm not completely sucked into holiday commercialism because the first thing that struck me, well, the second thing after the gorgeous diamond, was how Lane's observation related to story that a story's setting is where it lives. I recently did a post on the movie The Descendants, based on the debut novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and was thinking that although the story could have been set anywhere, Hawaii was the perfect spot. In this case, Hemmings grew up there, so from that perspective it was a natural choice. But the setting worked well for another key reason — the variability of the scenery and climate, which the director used with dexterity to match the mood of each scene.

To put this writing principle into practice, select a scene from a story you're working on that includes your main character and has a comparatively common setting, like a doctor's office or café. To see how a different setting could enhance the scene, consider an aspect of your character that you want to convey, a hobby, for example, or an avocation. These say a lot about who a person is when she's not "on display." Revise the scene using the new setting. How does the rewrite change the original?

For more on this topic of setting, see the Writer's Digest article "Rescuing Your Story From Cliché," by author and instructor Peter Selgin.

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