Thursday, February 5, 2015

Time & Place: The Basics

Caerlaverock Castle, Scotland. Photo by Amy Jarecki
Obviously, every part of a novel unfolds within a concrete/physical environment of some kind—whether it’s under the sea, the supply room in an office building, or a World War II battlefield.

The way you bring your time period and setting to life—even if the time period and setting are more domestic and contemporary—informs so much of the novel. It helps the reader truly FEEL as though they’ve landed somewhere and are experiencing a world around the characters, one whose details have significance and are placed meaningfully on the page.

Often, though, writers take either a too bare bones or too lavish approach to setting. They either give us a quick inventory of what’s in a room (“A table sat in the center, on top of which was a crystal vase holding daffodils.”) or a too lavish travelogue of every detail from the clouds overhead, to the paint flaking on the columns, to the ants scurrying beneath the feet of the main character.

Often, too, they don’t challenge themselves to set their scenes in the most evocative environments, settling on those domestic arenas that are comfortable to them—the bedroom, the kitchen, the car, and so on.

That said, here are some questions to take you deeper:
·     Is this the most compelling time and/or location in which the scene can unfold?
·     What is unusual/special about this time and place?
·     What about time/place weighs on or buoys the scene’s viewpoint  character? (How does it either empower her or rob her of psychic strength?)
·      How does the viewpoint character’s interactions with the environment speak to her emotional state?
·     What concrete, singular/idiosyncratic details emerge via the viewpoint character’s perspective? In other words, what would only s/he notice?
·     If this setting is revisited several times throughout the novel, how is it viewed differently each time by the viewpoint character? How does her progression through the novel CHANGE her relationship with this place?

I know writers who think of setting as another character in their book. It's that important!

Write on Friends!

~Amy Jarecki
Author of Scottish Historical Romance
Most Recent Release: Knight in Highland Armor


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Setting is my biggest weakness. When I draft, I glaze over it and then go back and flesh it all out in revisions. These are great questions to ask.

Jonathan Schramm said...

Great post, Amy! As a Sci-Fi writer, setting is a huge consideration for me. Thanks for shedding a light on it! Like Kimberly said, these are great questions to ask.

Carrie Beckort said...

Great post, Amy! Setting really is key, yet it can so often be overlooked as not as important to develop as the characters themselves. I'll definitely keep these questions in mind as I work on my next novel.

Leandra Wallace said...

I love those books where the setting is like another character. I think Maggie Stiefvater does that really well, like w/her The Scorpio Races. It's set on an island and man, do I feel like I'm there!

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