Dickens and Elliot wrote pages describing setting in their novels. In today’s popular fiction market, readers expect a faster paced, more dialogue-rich read.
This does not eliminate the need for rich, visceral experiences that immerse your reader in place and time.
Setting is an opportunity–not an obligation. Words, chosen carefully, can evoke place as well as show aspects of your character in ways that flow naturally as they divulge information.
Setting well done, can be a character in and of itself. It can provide emotional tone and tension whether mountains, desert or lost in space. As characters interact in a place, so your reader can be brought along as they accesses their own past experiences, merging them with your book and characters.
Weather as part of setting paints a feel. Sun versus rain not only effects mood, but can be used as metaphor for story as it unfolds, either literal or to provide contrast.
It is the author’s job to take a reader into a virtual reality; the stage where characters play out the story.
To infuse a tone, set atmosphere and mood the author needs to maintain setting credibility.
RESEARCH : It is perhaps the best time in history to make setting come alive.
The devil, however, is in the details.
Books, travel brochures & documentaries, Google Earth, You Tube and photo hosting sites such as Photobucket, Flickr and Picasso are but a few sources.
Many public places have websites. Some include 360 degree views. Most have still photo gallery.
Setting does not have to be foreign or fancy. Your hometown and drive-able surrounds are within a reasonable budget, both monetarily and time-wise.
Online information can only give you so much insight. Experiencing a story’s setting first hand provides invaluable sensory data — sights, smells, tastes and sounds that cannot be appreciated through a computer screen.
Onsite research – Take your digital camera. Digital and downloadable photos will allow you to snap many more than needed AND act as a record of details you may not notice in the moment.
Visit local ethnic areas and festivals. People, crafts and foods there will have strong ties to the mother country.
Don’t forget geography, religious views, technological architecture (or lack thereof), art, flora and fauna.
Foreign language CDs from the library can set the mood as can songs of the setting.
Blog about your experiences:
Not only will this provide an invaluable memory journal, details that are lost to time are best saved shortly after the experience.
Blogs about travel, even around your own stomping grounds, provide welcome entertainment to readers. They enjoy a vicarious experience in which you have included photo illustrations, as well as rich visceral descriptions (those sights, sounds, flavors and tastes) Here is where you can get away with more description than in your fiction. It is a travel journal and expected!
Don’t wait to NEED a setting experience. Save all places you go and all you do for future reference. Holidays, business travel, visits to relatives –all enrich your personal stash of setting potpourri.
Just as you would draw up a character sketch complete with back story, gather details of information about your setting. Find out as much as you can. It will probably be more than you need, but will allow you to create an aura of authenticity not possible with sketchy details.