Bridge to Story

Settings: Building Evocative Places

This is about 'the Show vs.Tell', when it comes to using setting to create evocative feelings of place. What that setting should be evoking is Character and Issues the Character might be facing.

In fiction Setting is not simply the place where your character happens to be while the story is being told. Setting can reflect what your character is all about. And when you narrate about your setting for your reader, you have the option of giving us information about your character and her circumstances or plight.

The trick to this is finding a sense of character in your character. And then to allow that sense of emotion (for that character) into your setting. That is - translating that emotion into the setting you’re painting around the character. The setting becomes a mirror of the character’s emotional state and her problems.

Example Toggle

Example:

In this example, notice how this novice has woven a character into her setting. She didn't do it with lines like "There's hard water in this city." or "I'm having problems in my life and with the men I meet here." Or with, "I'm alone here, far from home."

Look at what she did accomplish:

You know, it’s the hard water this city has that leaves my bathroom looking like such a mess. I hate this city. This city makes me look bad. The hard water, it’s as inflexible as the creeps you run into. And unless you can afford someplace classy, accepting your lot is the only option. You take what there is to get.

Look at that sink. You think that cat hair would be so evident in San Francisco?  It’s the hard water leaving that dreary nearly invisible film. Hard water leaving its traces on my life. Those damn deposits are like my last– let’s just call him what’s-his-face.

Though I’d rather not have to call him at all. Just can’t let things circle the drain cleanly and be washed away like it needs to. Finito. No, not him. So clingy, just like hard water.

Hard water is just so damned sneaky, showing up your life to the light. Letting your privacy out in the open for anyone spending the night. All they see is that cat hair and soap scum. All because of hard water.  Who doesn’t have a cat or two? Who doesn’t wash their face? You got a blackhead problem; you gotta wash your face more– keep up your outer shell.

What you’re looking at isn’t a negligent housekeeper– no matter what some folks might claim– sure, I admit living alone you tend to let things go some times, but the culprit you’re looking at here is hard water, not me. It’s hard water getting the best of a weary woman.  You’re looking at a woman this city has beaten.  I hate this place. Man, I miss the coast.

 Now you try - find a bit of setting from your own work, go the Exercise for this topic, and give it some character.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

1. Let's break down this example and see how we can use the bits in your own work.

 You know, it’s the hard water this city has that leaves my bathroom looking like such a mess. I hate this city. This city makes me look bad. The hard water, it’s as inflexible as the creeps you run into. And unless you can afford someplace classy, accepting your lot is the only option. You take what there is to get.

It is the third line in this paragraph where we see the character's issue, 'This city makes me look bad.', followed by '...inflexible as the creeps you run into.'

She didn't come right out on line one and say what was bugging her. Look at your own work, how deep into the first paragraph have you slipped the real issue? Too far in? Not far enough?

2. Now let's look at the middle paragraph of the narration:

 Though I’d rather not have to call him at all. Just can’t let things circle the drain cleanly and be washed away like it needs to. Finito. No, not him. So clingy, just like hard water.

Here in this paragraph the narration is using the 'hard water' to talk about a man who has been in her life, and still seems to be in the picture, much to the character's dismay.

Did you use anything having to do with setting in your work to show us something of the character's problem? Can you see a way you can do that now, having read this example?

3. How about the ending paragraph? - Here we get a narration that gives the reader a glimpse of what the character is feeling, where her problems lie. And in a way, how she is deluding herself about her plight.

 What you’re looking at isn’t a negligent housekeeper– no matter what some folks might claim– sure, I admit living alone you tend to let things go some times, but the culprit you’re looking at here is hard water, not me. It’s hard water getting the best of a weary woman.  You’re looking at a woman this city has beaten.  I hate this place. Man, I miss the coast.

Here is the wonder of the example; here we get a 'turn-around', a reversal, in what we expected from this narration, setting and character.

Can you re-read your own work and find a way to make Setting reflect your character? Ways to twist what is happening for your own character - even if it is only a twist in how she sees herself where she is now, reflected in the Setting around her?