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The Challenge of Creating Powerful Settings

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Great article by C S Lakin (former member): The Challenge of Creating Powerful Settings.



Setting is so often overlooked or pushed to the background in fiction. But it is, perhaps, one of the most powerful elements of a story. If you aren’t thinking carefully about the settings in your story, I hope you’ll think again. Setting isn’t just where your overall story is set, it’s all those locations you set individual scenes in.


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When I was a child, our house and barns, and the fields and roads in our area permeated my dreams. I was filled with reverence for the mystery of the place. In dreams, things looked almost the same but felt larger, mystical, spiritual. That is what I try to capture in my writing. 


When I applied to college, there was the obligatory college essay to write and submit. After I completed the application, I was bored, so I wrote another and included it in my submission. It was a non-fiction recollection of walking through the woods on the hill behind my house with my German Shepherd "Donner" when I was four years old. I didn't think the extra essay would make a difference one way or another. I loved to write and it was a delight, not a burden. Being that I was not constrained by any rules on the application form, I was able to express myself freely. Just me, a dog, a cement spring, trees, a hill and walking. Setting was the most prominent feature of the piece. The school accepted my application!


Years later, after I graduated that school, I ran into my old freshman adviser, Steve. He was the one who reviewed my application years before (and thousands of others over the years). He still remembered mine. He told me that as an engineering school, they historically looked mostly at math and science grades when considering applicants. However that year they changed what they were looking for. They wanted more well-rounded students, so were especially considering writing ability. My extra, unsolicited story about walking in the woods with my dog was what got me into MIT.


Setting matters.

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I have to somewhat disagree.


In the book I'm getting ready to submit, all of the beta readers - including my wife - cited that one of the most profound parts of my book was done while three people were sitting around a table, eating chicken and potatoes.


Yeah, I had done some setup in the previous chapter, and that was a decent setting (and one beta reader noted that it felt mildly contrived).  But that was nothing more than fuel, and stoking for the eventual payoff when the characters were sitting around, eating dinner.


In the end, it was the dialog, and how it flowed, that made the difference.  And I could have done the same thing whether eating dinner, playing catch in the yard, sitting in a bar having a beer, or taking a stroll along a garden path.


I'm not saying that setting isn't important - it's very important.  But, I believe that real "power," comes from the message, not the background it is displayed upon.


Just an opinion...from an unpublished author...who is going through the soul-sucking process of edits.  :)



Edited by Jeff Potts
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