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The Importance of Setting
By Tina Morgan
Every writer begins the creative process differently. Some start with creating new characters, other with exploring the conflict and plot to their story. Then there are those that begin by exploring the world their characters will exist in. All of these ways are correct for each individual writer. However all three issues must be addressed in any given story. If characterization, plotting or setting are weak then the story will be as well.
How important is setting?
Exploring the internet the past week, I found a lot of articles over the art of writing. There were several articles over developing characters; for example, how to do a character interview, or how to match your characters to the conflict. Articles abounded over how to introduce/maintain/resolve conflict in a novel. However, there were very few articles over how to develop the setting of a novel. Further research led to questions from interviews with different fantasy/sf writers over world building. But science fiction/fantasy writers are not the only writers who should be concerned with setting.
How can setting affect your characters?
Whether your story takes place on an imaginary world or right here on present day earth, setting is a crucial part of any story. How you build the world around your characters will play a vital role in the overall believability of your novel. The type of world you create will determine the reactions and behaviors of your characters. Consider this: a woman's role in society will vary drastically from the 1920's Midwest USA to a 2001 professional woman of a major city to the present day attitudes towards women in a Muslim country. A story set in any of these times should reflect the social mores of that particular culture.
Do published authors really worry about setting?
Yes. Think about the best-selling authors of our time. They don't rely solely on one aspect of a story to carry the entire novel. They develop every aspect. In this issue of Fiction Factor, Dennis McKiernan honors us with some insight as to how he creates the setting for his Mithgar novels. Do you need to go into as much detail as Mr. McKiernan in your own writing? Possibly not, but you do need to understand how your characters fit into the time frame you are dealing with and the physical world around them.
I'm not writing science fiction so I don't need to worry about world building.
There is nothing more annoying than to be reading a book where the rules suddenly change because the writer forgot to plan the conflict resolution from the start. For example: having a murder mystery that takes place in the 1600's being solved by scientific methods not invented until the 1800's will cause your readers to put the book down in disgust. Miraculous solutions to external conflicts might look good on the big screen but they rarely work on the printed page. There are no fantastic special effects to overshadow a lack of research and planning.
I don't want to world build.
Putting time and energy into creating setting may be your least favorite part of writing, but if you intend to write a quality novel, it is something you cannot overlook. If you don't have a good working knowledge of the time frame you are writing about, then you must research. Don't try to feed your readers a bunch of nonsense because you don't want to do the work required. You can't fool everyone. Someone is not only bound to spot the lack of development but call you on it as well.
This seems more like work!
Even the most talented artists, athletes, and musicians practice. They work for hours a day to perfect their craft. Regardless of the amount of time you have in an individual day, it is the overall research and planning that goes into your novel that will make it shine.
© Copyright 2001 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved
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