Setting - an Overview

Setting - an Overview
Setting is as crucial for creative nonfiction writing as it is for fiction and, believe it or not, it is also important for other kinds of nonfiction writing like how-to articles or news items. In this series of articles I will show you how to develop the right setting for your story scenes.

I will cover four setting techniques in separate articles as follows: Setting through the World around Us, Setting through a Camera Lens, Setting through Atmosphere, and Setting through Action.

In each of these articles I will lay out the basics for you to see and play with. Each article is a foundation piece for you to build upon. Feel free to experiment on your own stories or simply make up settings to keep your writing practice going.

The fifth and final article in this series is called: Setting-Putting it all Together. In this last piece I strive to help you see how to use the different techniques to make your story come alive and involve your readers.

Do you feel writing and working on your story settings is boring? I used to agree and also thought it was tedious as well. Learning different elements in the craft of writing seemed a bit mundane to me at first. Quickly though I learned that as I practiced different settings either in a current story project or just for fun as an exercise during the day, my writing took on all of these setting elements naturally.

Once that happened I spent a lot less time in rewrites or reworking my stories. For myself learning the craft of writing has been a lot like learning how to drive a car. First, I had some boring classes and read an instruction book that put me to sleep. Everything seemed like such a big deal. Then, once I had my driver’s license and begin venturing out by myself, the things I learned -- like don’t turn right with your left blinker on -- became second nature. In no time I was jumping into my car and heading off to where I wanted to go while the driving school classes not entering my conscious mind.

I fell in love with writing when I was a young teenager. I learned quickly however, that I did not like the rewriting or revision process at all. When I started to learn some of the mechanics of the craft of writing it actually set me free. I no longer had to spend weeks and months rewriting to try to get the story the way I wanted it. Instead I simply used a few different techniques I had learned, like different ways to use settings, and my stories came to life. Best of all I was finally having fun with them throughout the whole process because my revisions became adventures as the solutions showed themselves almost effortlessly.

In order to help you learn these four basic setting techniques and be able to have fun with them I am going to use this story sketch I created as an example. Below I will layout the basic premise of the story. Then in the Settings-Putting it all Together article I will revisit this example to show you how the four different settings can help you with your stories.

Bumble Bee Story Sketch

A few years back I wanted to write a series of stories on fears and phobias. Not the actual medical side of them, but the emotional and life altering side. I was taking notes in my writing journal for a few months whenever I came across someone who exhibited some sort of fear. Then, one summer afternoon, I saw a very dramatic example of a phobia of a bumble bee when I was about to visit a woman who loved to garden.

As I approached this woman’s yard I saw her sitting in her camping chair facing her award-winning rock flower garden. This quiet summer afternoon she was humming and looking back and forth across the hundreds of different kinds of flowers she had grown. Before she realized I was walking from the sidewalk to come and talk with her, I saw her bend slightly forward as she hummed her beautiful tune louder. In an instant her world changed. From the angle I was approaching her I could see a bumble bee come out of a flower just in front of her feet.

This calm happy woman came unglued. Suddenly, and without warning, she began to jump up and down, waving her arms all around in the air above her head and screaming at the top of her lungs. She kept raising her knees one at a time as though she was trudging in quick sand. After a few minutes she swung around and kicked her chair over losing her balance and fell to the ground. Then like a small child she kept pounding the ground while pulling grass up all around her.

When she noticed that I had seen her reaction she ran into her house, slammed her door shut, locked it, and pulled all her blinds closed. My heart hurt for her. That kind of fear can be painful, debilitating, as well as life altering.

My main focus for my article was the emotional toll of phobias and fears. If you were writing an article or story on that topic and wanted to use this scene in it, what setting technique would you use?

Would you write some great descriptive prose on each of the types of flowers she grew and list the awards she had won? Would you focus on the bumble bee event only and barely mention her gift for gardening? Would you write a humorous piece to help people move forward, or a serious piece to draw sympathy and tears?

Truthfully there is no wrong answer here. It all depends on the story you are writing and the main focus of it. It depends on what you want your readers to see, feel, smell, and experience. The choices are yours to make. I hope my articles will give you some new ideas to play around with.

Remember as you read through each technique to take some time to play around with it and have some fun.

You Should Also Read:
Setting - Atmosphere

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