Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tips for writers: Taking your setting from static to fantastic

Originally posted on Seriously Write.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tips for Writers: Taking Your Setting From Static to Fantastic

If I were a betting girl, I’d wager we’ve all read at least one book that could be considered a “wallpaper” book. You know, the kind of story that if it weren’t for the time stamp at the beginning of chapter one or the occasional reference to ball gowns instead of bell bottoms, you’d be hard pressed to remember if the book took place in 1875 or 1975. Regardless of its other redeeming qualities, a “wallpaper” lacks color and pizzazz. There’s a reason jewelers display diamonds on blue velvet. The light may be what makes them sparkle, but it’s the rich background that makes them most noticeable.

As writers, we want every facet of our story to shine. We obsess about plot and characters. We spend hours weaving elaborate back stories, imagining every detail from the flecks of gold in our hero’s eyes to the height of our heroine’s shoe heels. We dream up conflicts we hope seem impossible to overcome and do our best to make certain we have a “because” for every “why.”

Depending on the genre, most of us have spent hours researching historical accuracies, legal proceedings, or devising the rules of our own Paranormal world. So, how is possible, then, that our settings are often relegated to background static instead of being used as a full-fledged orchestra?

In my books, I get to visit a wide range of times and places, but in my opinion a great setting is more than just a certain year or country. To me, it’s what makes the word pictures we write high definition instead of fuzzy black and white.

Here are a few ways I like to use setting to best advantage:

• Use weather or seasons to emphasis your character’s story arc. For example, in my latest release, The Protector, I used the cold, damp days of a Roman winter to magnify the loneliness of my heroine’s life. As the story progresses, she and the hero travel to the Amalfi coast where the warmth and color of their surroundings mirrors the happiness they’re experiencing together. 

• Use setting as a metaphor for your character’s inner emotions. In my book, The Duke’s Redemption, a storm outside is like the tempest of pain raging in my hero after he receives the news of his brother’s death.

• Use a contrasting setting to magnify a character’s personality. Ex: Nothing escaped Agnes’s dreary disposition. Even the daisies lining the garden path seemed to wilt when she walked by.

• Use setting to highlight a character’s circumstances. Ex: Before the war, the Smiths had known every luxury. Now, the parlor’s curtains and threadbare rugs were as faded as the family’s glory.

• Remember to engage not only the characters’ senses, but the readers, too. Whatever the scene, include as much sound, taste, touch, etc. as possible.

I hope these ideas have helped to get your creative juices flowing. What are some of the techniques you use to make the most of your settings?