The Power of Setting, by Veronica

Hi! I'm Veronica. What's your name? Where are you from?

Where are you from.

So often, that's the second question we ask people we're trying to get to know. Why? Because location--because setting--tells us so much.

Location automatically attributes information. If you're from Malibu, I'll infer that you're active, possibly into ocean sports (paddle boarding?) or yoga. I can imagine beach sand dusting the floors of your home and see a few pairs of Ugg boots collected by the door, frayed with use from all the foggy coastal mornings. I can imagine the eclectic decor, furnishings that strike a balance between elegant and casual. I could guess that yes, you do like sushi, and if you don't own a few dogs, I'd be surprised.

* I'm not saying I'm right. (In fact, I know I'm quite wrong.) I'm just saying, that's what Malibu conjures for me. Those are the references I think of. Notice how the scope of these references is broad. I have an idea of home, diet, natural environment, possibly even political inclinations. That's a lot of information. Also, the idea of a Place inevitably brings pictures with it. I have been to Malibu, and so I imagine Point Dume (pronounced Point Doom, which is so fabulously ominous, isn't it?) a spur of rounded land shaped like a black turtle that divides long stretches of surfer-packed beaches. Point Dume oriented me when I was there, and would it orient you, too? Do you think it looks like a turtle, as well? See what's happening? I want to ask you questions. I want to know if we're somehow alike... that, friends, is the first step in creating reader identification.

Texas will bring other images and associations, as will Rome. New York. Albuquerque. Angel's Camp, California.

Setting brings us knowledge. Setting is the world in which you exist. Your environment can be anything from hostile, to nurturing. It can inspire your choice in food and shoes. It can influence your political and religious beliefs. One thing you can be sure of, the influence of environment is unavoidable. Even if you're a Californian living in Texas who is determined not to bring y'all into your daily speech, that avoidance is still an effect of your environment.

These are the things we should consider as writers. So often we focus on character and plot. I'm here to sing the praises of setting. Take your time with it. Let it be as important as plot and character, because it IS.

Next time you sit down to write, close your eyes and listen to the surf breaking on the beach. Feel the slipperiness of the sand, when you step onto wide-planked hardwood floors. Listen to the dogs, barking happily on the beach. And that smell... do you smell it? People describe the saltiness of ocean air, but this ocean, the Pacific, is far richer than salty air. This ocean is vibrant and full of furious life. And you can smell that life. The dolphins that wove through the waves just an hour ago. The long strings of kelp strewn on the beach with pods you can't resist popping. That slimy shiny thing you almost stepped on, and then prodded with a piece of driftwood. This air holds all of that.

Places make you feel. Setting details are not just there to decorate your scenes. Make them matter. Let them bring your readers into the specific world you've created, and even better, let them influence your characters.

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