Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature


on May 2, 2014

If you don’t think setting is important, just think of some of your favorite stories set in another place and time. Would Gatsby have been so great in 21st century Afghanistan? Would Harry Potter have been so magical in Antarctica? Would Scarlett O’Hara have had such an impact in the Hunger Games? (Okay, a big maybe on that last one.)

parkMany writers like to think of the setting as another character, requiring the same care as the main characters. And they may be right. But sometimes I think setting is as elusive as voice. Sure, you can tell the reader you’re in a park and that the weather is warm and sunny, but how does the park feel? That’s the challenge.

Thoughts that help me get the setting straight:

  1. Get your five senses involved. How does the park smell? Are there hot dogs roasting? Do sunbathers reek of sunscreen? Can you smell the honeysuckle? What do you taste? Is there sweat trickling down your face? Is that watermelon sweet and a little salty? Does it taste like home? Is there a warm breeze brushing your bare arms? Is the sun heating your face? Can you hear kids screaming with delight? A puppy yipping to get its favorite toy? The trees creaking in that breeze? What color is the sky? What else do you see? And just how do you convey all this information while still maintaining the flow of the story?
  2. Think about what the setting says about your characters. Would Gatsby attend a rock concert? Harry Potter sought challenges, but the reader was more likely to find him in a cemetery than a toy store. Would Scarlett O’Hara wear jeans?
  3. Think what the setting can do to advance the plot. You have this neat little park with flying kites, sunbathers, and joggers. What would a sudden thunderstorm do to that idyllic picture? Will all the park-goers go to the same shelter? Will they interact? Do they already know each other or are they just meeting for the first time?


Well, now that I have a setting, guess I’d better get to work on my story.

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