The PoweR of Setting
Fantasy is a dream genre for writers like me who love world building. We can reshape what we already know of this world into something slightly different, or we can escape it completely and fashion a new and unique universe. However, once we’ve created our fantasy world, we still need to be able to get it down on the written page in a way that allows others to visualize what we see in our heads. That’s not always an easy task when we’re trying to balance action with description; juggling plot, characters, pacing, conflict, and everything else that goes into making an excellent story.
During Camp NaNoWriMo this month, I’ve been trying to finish my novella, Into the Shadow Wood, and I got the chance to enlist the help of a book coach. (It is a service I’ve never used before, but highly recommend!) One of the things my book coach pointed out to me was that she was having trouble visualizing the setting of my story. This really took me by surprise. I had already built the world—establishing the Shadow Wood as an untamed wilderness, steeped in ancient evil, with a history all its own. The rumors and mythology were all there, along with the corresponding sense of dread and fear in the hearts of my characters. Yet once I had actually placed them in the Wood, I had gotten so caught up in what they were doing, and feeling, that the experience of the journey was getting lost. I had unintentionally glossed over the setting. In doing so, I was losing an opportunity to add an extra layer of meaning, not to mention creepiness.
The setting can sometimes say things to a reader that the characters or narrator can’t. It can affect mood, create or diminish conflict, or even serve as a metaphor for something far deeper than the visual it provides (ever read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?). As I’ve gone through making revisions to my tale, I’ve made a point of giving my setting a greater voice, and the story has become more profound as a result.
If you’re a writer, what role does your setting have in the story you’re telling? Has it become a vague backdrop against which all the action takes place, or is it something more? If you’re a reader, can you think of a story where the setting stood out and intensified the experience of the book?
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