4 Tips to Building Setting

Todays guest blog poster is Linda Adams.


4 Tips to Building Setting

In a movie or a TV show, the camera pans across the scene in an establishing shot and the viewer gets an instant impression of the setting.  The opening sequences in Hawaii Five-0‘ show beautiful beaches, surfers taking on the waves, and girls in bikinis.  But in a novel, it’s up to the writer to use words to evoke the images of the setting.  Here are four tips to building setting:

Start with what’s important.  When writing the description, focus on the elements needed for the story.  Time management books talk about prioritizing actions, and this is the same thing–prioritizing what’s important and what can be left out.

Learning Styles.  Have wordage that appeals to people with the learning styles of Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.  Penn State University has a great site describing each of the learning styles and how the people with them view the word.

Visual is experienced through what we see with our eyes like aesthetics, shapes, and contrasts.  Word choices include ones that are more visually oriented, like “shimmering.”

Auditory is experienced through what we hear with ears and with words that convey hearing, such as “rhythmic.”

Kinesthetic is experienced through touch and what we feel, like instant impressions of a place and with words the convey touch or feeling, such as “freezing.”

Working to these learning styles will offer opportunities to describe setting in different and unexpected ways.

Sense of Smell.  Smell is a powerful tool in the writing arsenal — perhaps even more powerful that visual images.  It can evoke long forgotten memories or show horror.  Remember M*A*S*H?  Patients came in smelling like a “wet, burlap sack” and that triggered a long buried memory for Hawkeye (Alan Alda).  But as Faith Hunter notes:

My friend Bob—the man in the writer’s group who pushed and cajoled us all into using more sensory language, was particularly adamant about smell, saying that most writers forget all about smell, and their writing suffered for it.

It may be necessary to review scenes to ensure this sense gets in the story, since it’s often such a challenge.

Double Duty.  Make every description building the setting do double duty.  It’s not just showing what the place looks like — make it establish a mood, dip into a character’s memories, or foreshadow.

Do you fit into any of the learning styles above?  Tell me how you experience a new place from your perspective.

I hope you’ll read my article  Writing a Novel When You’re Right-Brained on Vision: A Resource for Writers or drop in for a visit to my blog or website.



Filed under About writing

2 responses to “4 Tips to Building Setting

  1. Kass

    I like the idea of looking into learning styles to get an idea of how people view the world. Never thought of that before!

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