09 June 2010

When the Life Has Left the Building...

Hey, Friends!

This week we're going to talk about setting, one of my favorite things to explore in stories. Setting is so important. Written well, it can become another character. It carries and continues a story, grounds a scene, and provides history as well. It can foreshadow, deepen themes, and even create movement.

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when I went to visit my parents' house. When I first moved back in January, I packed up my room at my parents' house "unseen" items first--the clothes in my drawers and closet, the boxes under my bed, the supplies from my desk, etc. Because my apartment is fully furnished, I couldn't take any furniture. We loaded up my car and part of my mom's, drove up here, and moved me in less than two hours.

When I returned to their house the next weekend for the rest of my stuff, I walked into my room and everything looked. . . almost normal. If I looked in the closet or in the dresser, I noticed the emptiness. But from outward appearances, it was like I still lived there.

Then I packed my books.

The next time I walked into my room, it was empty.

The furniture was still there, along with a few odds and ends I either didn't want to take or chose to leave for a specific reason. But it's as if the life left the room. Each time I visit it feels less and less like mine. Though I have a connection to it still, that link fades more as time passes.

For every setting, something brings life. Sometimes you don't know what it is until it is missing. It's different for each place, for each character, for each scene. For my room, it was the books. For my novel, it's a combination of the actual location, a physical place in that location, and the repeated appearance of a certain color.

What brings life to the setting in your novel?

In your house?

See y'all Wednesday!


  1. Hi Kristen! I have a hard time with setting, because I'm not a visual person. Oddly enough, the music in my stories is often part of the setting, and that works for me. (I hope. I think.)

    I do try to work hard to incorporate visual details into description, because I know they're so important to setting. And I love to read stories with well-thought out, engaging settings.

    Take care!

  2. oh my goodness Kristen! I've never even thought of this. What a great point! I'm really not sure...I'll have to think about it.

  3. For some reason I always need to know what the outside of a house looks like. I'll go to realtor sites and find "the house" in order to describe it better. For my house, the trees and the yard make it.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Pictures on the walls bring life into my home. Books too. My daughter's room is a mess, so there will be no doubt when she moves out. Sad to think about someday....

  5. So perfect. Perfecting a scene or setting is all in the details!

  6. I have a hard time with setting--and often forget it! But I have used the inside of their home a few times to convey something about my character.

  7. I always talk about trees in my settings because I LOVE trees. Even if I do little research on my setting otherwise, I still research what kind of trees are there so I can write about them. With my current WIP, though, it's the history of the town and its residents that make my setting come alive.

  8. I struggle a bit with setting, but it's something I'm working on.

    Love your new picture.

  9. What brings life to my home are the four fur children in kitty suits. Or the grandkids when they visit. Pets and babies shout, life here!

  10. I really enjoyed the way you explore setting here. The thought about what specific things matter and bring life to a story and place and time. For my story it's things in the natural world that matter. In my home it's books and rocks and feathers. Thanks for giving me something to ponder here.

    Molly Gloss is a writer for whom setting is always a critical character. She's brilliant at knowing just what to include.

  11. Hi Kristen -

    Setting is one of my weak points. I'm a dialogue/action sort of gal.

    Thanks for the tips on bringing setting to life. It's the small touches that place our characters on a realistic stage.

    Susan :)

  12. I find that so important for suspense, because the very essence of the setting helps set the tone for the entire story. You can't have a hand come around a corner in a calm, "sweet" setting, there has to be something to put the reader a bit on edge, and ooohh setting helps!

  13. Books add life for me as well. But so do my husband, kids, and my pets. Without evidence of my cat and dog, it would feel really weird!

  14. Great example! I've always thought the same: that the setting is a character in the book. I'm struggling with that right now, though. I keep forgetting the books takes place in December and I need to have Christmas stuff all over the place. When I go back and add it all in - the lights, music, presents, decorations - it really changes the feel of the scenes.

  15. Great example! I try to thread description throughout my books so the place becomes a character.

    Think swampy bayous, seamy, Christmas-bulb lit Thai alleys, majestic green cliffs o' County Clare...

  16. This was a great look at setting. A personal, relatable look, too.

    I love your profile pic. Such a good one of you!

  17. This is a neat parallel. I've never thought about what brings my setting. I like it.

  18. Good food for thought here! I'm going to have to ask myself this every time I write.