SETTING: BEYOND A PLACE
By Gail Gaymer Martin
Readers want to have a sense of place instead of having infamous floating head conversations. Setting lends authenticity and a sense of place, but it is more than naming a the city or state or describing a room or building. Setting includes weather, month, year, time of day. An author can accomplish this task in one line. On the Miami shoreline, Edna looked into the stormy May sky and watched the late afternoon sun sink behind rippling water. Lines like this provides the reader with basic information needed for each scene.
Sometimes the information is provided even more simply. The next day, Edna curled her feet beneath her on the sofa and forced herself to focus on the vacation brochure. Notice this provides information but it does so much more. It raises questions—a key way to hook the reader.
Enhancing Characterization and Mood
Even more dramatic, setting can create a mood and enhance characterization. In fact, setting is most effective when it is used for this purpose, another method that causes readers to ask questions. In an excerpt from my novel, Upon A Midnight Clear, the reader can not only gain a sense of place, but the setting sets the tone or mood of the story.
Callie regarded her surroundings as she slid the coat from her shoulders. She stood in a wide hallway graced by a broad, curved staircase and a sparkling crystal chandelier. An oriental carpet covered the floor, stretching the length of the entry.
Two sets of double doors stood closed on the right, and on the left, three more sets of French doors hid the rooms’ interiors, leaving Callie with a sense of foreboding. Were the doors holding something in? Or keeping something out?
Again the readers are left curious and questioning. Notice how the next example sets the scene but allows the reader inside the character to experience her emotion.
Outside, the cool wind whipped against her and sent a shiver down her back. The wind or fear? She climbed into the car, turned on the lights, and backed out of the driveway. The night lay dark over the landscape, the moon hidden behind a heavy bank of clouds. Too soon for snow, she thought. Yet, the dark, dire sky matched the feeling inside her.
Here setting not only gives the reader a sense of place and an awareness of the character’s emotion, but it also creates an ominous mood and moves the plot along by leaving the reader with questions.
Using setting to capture characterization is effective. In this paragraph, notice the vivid image of the setting but how well it adds to Francie’s characterization.
Francie adjusted the baby carrier on her shoulders and rang the bell. While waiting, she studied a delicate spider web that spanned two vertical shafts of the porch’s wrought iron railing. The spider was still at work and Francie was captured by the beauty of the iridescent threads glinting in the afternoon sunlight. Beautiful, yet distressing. She felt trapped in a web as intricate and lovely as the spider’s.
Francine is trapped and we see the discepancy of her discription. How can being trapped be compared to something intricate and lovely? This leaves readers asking questions. . .and they are hooked.
Stop by next Wednesday for part two.
Used with permission: Writing Fiction Right Blog by Gail Gaymer Martin
Multi-award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian fiction for Love Inspired and Barbour Publishing, where she was honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has forty-nine contracted novels with over three million books in print. She is the author of Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations and presents workshops at conference across the US. She was recently named one of the four best novelists in the Detroit area by CBS local news.