Chapter 7, Part 1: Writing Setting

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Chapter 7, Part 1: Writing Setting
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“Creative writing is about possibilities, not about restrictions and limitations.” Jane Friedman

And then she immediately missed the point of her entire quote and talked about rewriting, etc.

Chapter 7, Part 1: Writing Setting

Note: If you’re confused because this isn’t Chapter 6, please read the Updates in yesterday’s post.

So What Is the Setting?

This will be a deep dive. And this entire chapter, like the entire book, applies to all genres across the board.

The setting is the specific and general location in which the scene takes place.

The setting includes the POV character’s immediate surroundings, but also his extended surroundings and his distant surroundings. So whatever he can physically sense (see, hear, smell, taste or feel).

It is vitally important to learn well how to craft the setting.

The more firmly readers are grounded in the setting, the more invested they are in the story and the more difficult it is for them to put it down and find something else to do.

The inability to write the setting is where a lot of writers lose readers, and even the readers don’t know why. If nothing in the first few hundred words pulls them down into the story, they simply lose interest and drift away.

Here. Let’s start with…

An Example of Setting

The POV character has just stepped through the front door of his house onto the square concrete stoop. He’s late 20s or early 30s, trim and clean-shaven with close-cropped hair, and he’s dressed in a slate-grey business suit, no hat.

A brown leather satchel dangles by the handle from his left hand. He smiles and looks about.

The air is a little chilly, but not cold, and it has a clean, green scent. There’s no breeze. There are a few thin clouds in the distant western sky beyond the retro silver-painted clothesline T-posts.

Across the narrow road to the north, a cornfield is tall and still green, yellowish green husks belying the golden ears of corn underneath. In a month, the field will be ready for harvest. The air will be filled with dust for three or four days.

But for now the morning sky is a clear, crisp blue.

Except for the biplane descending way out over the cornfield, the engine buzzing like a distant, angry bee. Probably getting ready to dust.

Nothing can spoil his good mood. It’s his first day on the job after receiving a much-deserved promotion.

Between the stoop and the street, the two halves of the lawn—Ooh, I’ll need to mow those when I get home—are divided by a row of narrow rectangular terra cotta stepping stones that create a path to the mailbox, which is situated beneath a mature Japanese maple.

He glances left toward his pearlized-white Lexus in the gravel driveway. But that scratch under the door handle. I need to find someone to rub that out.

He starts to step off the stoop, but his left foot is caught.

He glances down to see that his left shoe is untied and his right foot is on the errant lace.

So he sets his satchel down, kneels, and—

An explosion, and the doorframe shatters somewhere above his head. Something slaps the back of his head and neck.

What happens next?

Shrug. I dunno. That isn’t the purpose of this chapter.

But as you can see, your character(s) must exist down inside the setting.

Were you pulled into the setting? And remember, I wasn’t even writing an actual scene. I was only writing some description for you as an example of what you could include in this particular setting.

The Two Types of Setting Description

The Area of Description

In terms of physical area, I think of settings as being either Immediate, Expanded, or Distant (or Close, Midpoint, and Distant).

Immediate — In the previous example, the Immediate setting included the character (clothing, grooming, briefcase, his thoughts, his mood, etc.), the stoop, the temperature, the scent of the air, and the front door and doorframe behind the character.

Were there flowerbeds next to the porch? Shrug. I dunno. The character didn’t notice anything there so I didn’t write it. On cycling, maybe he’ll mention a bed of petunias or larkspurs or whatever. If he does, he’ll add it then.

I also have no idea what color the house is. If he adds flowerbeds or whatever later and if they’re next to the house, I’m sure he’ll mention how they stand out against the white or brown or green or blue house too. That’s all up to him.

But as you read the example, did you miss those things? I obviously didn’t, but just as you read with your subconscious mind, I wrote with my subconscious mind. Much more on this in the last chapter of this book.

The character didn’t notice them, so I didn’t include them.

Expanded — The Expanded setting included the near side of the Lexus, the clothesline pole(s) to his left, the lawn, the terra cotta path, the mailbox, the Japanese maple, the road and the face of the cornfield.

Distant — The Distant setting includes thin clouds, the sky and maybe the still air. The lack of a breeze could fit into any of the three. ‘Cause breezes move. If there was a breeze and it affected his eyelashes or his long hair or beard (if he had those) it would be an aspect of the Immediate setting.

Oops. The character just asked me why I didn’t include the sight and sound of the biplane coming in over the cornfield.

I told him “‘Cause this isn’t your story, dude.” (See? I don’t even know his name yet.) “It’s only an example. Besides, you didn’t mention it.”

He said, “Yeah? Well I’m mentioning it now.”

So I just went back and added the biplane to the earlier example for him, then scrolled down a couple of paragraphs and added it to the list. So that’s in the Distant category too. This is an example of cycling. Much more on cycling in a later chapter.

Of course, settings vary. Not only within a story or novel, but with genre.

In the example scene up above, the POV character was on a stoop outside his house.

If he was in the driver’s seat of his Lexus, his Immediate setting (what he physically notices) is probably different than if he was in the passenger seat or the back seat. Or, you know, in the trunk. Okay, or on the sidewalk or inside a building off the sidewalk or wherever.

If he’s in a city, there probably is an Expanded setting (people, curbs, sidewalks, storefronts, etc.) but there probably isn’t a Distant setting unless he gets out of the car.

The Degrees (or Levels) of Description

I only want to touch on this. Don’t get wrapped around the wheel of terminology. Just write.

Within any “area” of the setting (Immediate, Expanded, or Distant) there are also degrees of description.

Those are General, Specific, and Focused. Which one you use is dependent on to what degree the POV character senses or notices the setting or parts of the setting.

It might help to think of the Area of description as being whatever the POV character can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. The degrees or levels of description speak to specificity.

“A building” or “a barn” or “a car” is general.

“A red-brick building” or “a white barn” or “a pearlized white Lexus” is specific.

“A faded red-brick building” or “a white barn with chipped and peeling paint” or “a pearlized white Lexus with a scratch under the handle of the driver’s side door” is focused down.

Get it? If you don’t yet, bear this in mind as you continue with this chapter and book. You will get it most strongly when you’ve written enough fiction.

Next up, Chapter 7, Writing Setting, Part 2. Talk with you again then.

Of Interest

6 Important Lessons from Covers of Critically Acclaimed Books

New study on decomposing microbes could help transform forensic science

The Art and Purpose of Detail

Episode 893: Work-Life Balance

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1360

Writing of Blackwell Ops 20: Soleada Garcia: Into the Future (tentative title)

Day 1…… 3681 words. To date…… 3681
Day 2…… 3044 words. To date…… 6725
Day 3…… 3375 words. To date…… 10100
Day 4…… 3349 words. To date…… 13449
Day 5…… 4262 words. To date…… 17711
Day 6…… 3153 words. To date…… 20864
Day 1…… 3152 words. To date…… 24016

Fiction for February……………………. 27702
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 145306
Fiction since October 1……………… 448363
Nonfiction for February……………… 18190
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 50150
2024 consumable words…………… 195456

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 3
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 85
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 239
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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