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Creative Writing – Settings – by S.A. Barone

Image retrieved from www.lifeinitaly.com on 6-26-11

by S.A. Barone

The setting is when and where your story takes place.  A well written, sharp description of a setting can strengthen your plot and bring your story to life for a reader.

Settings are extremely important to your story, just as important as the main character, or plot. Placing your characters in a particular environment helps to stimulate the reader’s imagination.

The atmosphere, culture, scenery, architecture, and climate all play an important part in building a mood and influencing what the characters do in the story.
For example, if one setting is set in the wild backcountry of Australia, with its rugged terrain and fast moving rivers this scene will provide a much more dramatic atmosphere, while the wine country of Tuscany will provide a more romantic atmosphere, and therefore will evoke totally different behavior patterns from your characters.
David Fryxell, Writer’s Digest columnist says, “Strive to be specific, not general when writing your settings.  Name names, measure things, count so you can report exact numbers, learn to identify trees and birds, car makes and architectural styles. Instead of writing, “A lot of birds perched on the ornate rooftop,” do your homework; write instead, “Twenty-seven purple martins perched on the Italianate rooftop.”
Fryxell also says, “When writing descriptions of places, it is important to seek out specific details that engage all of the reader’s senses.”
Many writers refer to the part in John McPhee’s book, The Ransom of Russian Art, and how he so beautifully describes a Maryland farm.
“About halfway up the drive, at an intersection of farm roads, are eleven mailboxes in a row, one larger than the other.  There are about forty buildings on Cremona, well spread, eleven of which are human habitations.  There are hip-roofed barns, louvered tobacco barns, tall saltbox gabled barns—silver weathered-cypress barns, covered in part with carriage vine.”

When John McPhee wrote that description of the Maryland farm he actually went there, he counted the mailboxes and noted the architectural details of each building.

Use powerful verbs to help create your scenes. If possible, write about places that you know or feel a strong emotional attachment to.  You don’t always have to write long descriptions regarding your settings, sometimes a few specific details might be enough to give the reader a clear picture of where the characters are at.

Happy Writing,
S. A. Barone
Shirley is a published children’s writer. She has publishing credits in Highlights for Children, Turtle, Children’s Playmate, Humpty Dumpty, and Chicken Soup for the Pre-teen Soul. Shirley  has won a Distinguished Meritorious Service Award from the California School Boards Association for authoring an elective program that was adopted in schools in the Western United States and in areas of New York City. To learn more about Shirley and her art, visit www.sabarone.com

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