Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where the HECK are we? Guest Post, Angie Cothran

Thanks to the mysterious R. Mac Wheeler for asking me to post today. He asked, "Where does your writing fall in the matrix of PLOT-CHARACTER-ACTION-SETTING?"

Of course, they are all important and most authors make sure to use them all, but let’s be honest we all have a favorite. And I must be weird because not many people share my favorite—SETTING.

I believe without a really strong setting our stories aren't grounded.  Setting can make all the difference. Let me give just a quick example. Here are a few lines of generic dialogue.

“Did you see them?” she asked brushing the hair from her eyes.
He glanced over his shoulder. “No, but I heard them. Isn’t that enough?”

Kind of boring. Now put it in a setting and everything changes. What if you have a couple hiding from zombies in a burned out hospital, or a couple making out in the car at her parents drive way, or two people waiting in line at a concert? Every setting changes the context of the dialogue.

Setting can also immediately give a scene emotion faster than anything else can. How does a rain storm make you feel, or a hot day, or a nursing home, or a windswept moor, or an abandoned store front? I could go on and on.

If you still aren’t convinced ask yourself, “Where would these stories be without their settings?”

Chronicles of Narnia
Harry Potter
Hunger Games
Lord of the Rings
The Help
The Book Thief
Percy Jackson
I could list a million…

I strongly believe that setting should be treated as another character. Give your setting a history, a voice, movement, emotion, a roll to play. So this is my impassioned plea to all aspiring authors, DON’T FORGET THE SETTING.

Hogwarts picture attributed to GunnerVV 

-R. Mac Wheeler
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  1. You're so smart Angie! I never really thought about it, but setting is usually one of the first things I choose. And real life settings inspire me more than anything. A trip to Rhode Island and seeing the grand mansions on the cliff walk made me wonder what kind of stories those walls could tell.
    But I never really thought about how important it is till now!

  2. We did a huge talk about setting while I was at a playwriting conference and I've been more aware of them ever since. It even led to a short play I wrote about two men floating in a bay on an ice sculpture. :)

  3. Good morning, here I sit at a dusty desk with full-length Corinthian pillars standing guard on either side of a veranda outside my window.... (no not really, but rather- I'm beginning to feel very claustrophobic in a tiny room!) You are completely right about setting, not that we want to take away from our characters, but that's why so many people need movies instead of reading! It's so very boring when we can't see the writer's vision in his/her words... Thanks for stopping by and sharing this on one my favorite blogs - R. Mac Wheeler!

  4. Fab advice, Ang! One of the MS's I'm working on right now is in small-town America. Sounds boring, but it's not. I get to write about a whole town! It's fun.

  5. This is really great, Angie. I haven't thought about it another character. I love it!

  6. Setting informs our writing in so many ways... and you're right, when done well, it can almost be another character in the book. Some of my favorite settings in books -- To Kill A Mockingbird, Anne of Green Gables, 1984... I could go on...
    Great post, Angie!!!

  7. As someone who routinely struggles with setting, I found this post immensely helpful. Thanks for breaking it down like that!

  8. Rachelle Christensen gives a great presentation about this. Setting can really increase the stakes, emotions, and conflict.

  9. great advice! i am ramping up my setting in my current wip! love your example how setting changes the feel if a scene!

  10. I especially like your example of the Harry Potter books; I can't help thinking about how different the stories would be if they had been set somewhere else.
    Setting is hard to describe sometimes. I get so caught up in what the characters are saying or doing that I often forget about what's happening around them.

  11. I'm back, R. Mac. Nice meeting you! I'm a new follower. :)

  12. I've never really thought about setting this way. It's true that it is important though. I read somewhere that Hogwarts Castle could be considered a character itself and I think that's true. The best settings are so real they could be a person themselves.

  13. Awesome advice! And another great piece of setting-related advice I once got at a writers' conference was to stage important scenes in my novel in a unique and dynamic setting. Because of that, I completely changed the upcoming scene I was about to write, and it was so much better for it!

  14. So great! Setting really is vital in every story, and even better when it too becomes a character! :D

  15. So with you on this! Setting is so important and can take a book from good to great.

  16. Angie, you're such a genius and its so true. Setting is another character. Brilliant.

  17. I totally agree! Narnia, Hogwarts. They are so awesome. It's one of the reason one of my WIP's it taking me so long. I want to create a living, breathing world. Great post!!

  18. I love this - and I completely agree! One thing I see a lot in beginning writers' work (including my own early drafts) is a lack of setting. It's so much easier to become invested in the world when you feel like you're actually there.

    That said I have very little setting in my first draft. I layer it in during revisions. But at least it's in there eventually!