The Power of Setting Development Exercises In Your Writing
Dr. Maxine Thompson
In writing, setting is an element, which, if executed well, is invisible, but adds layers and depth to a story. Technically, the Bible begins with the setting of the world. (Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”)
Setting can include historical, social, political and economic context. Setting can also involve interior landscape, (a person in a mental hospital such as in Ken Kesey‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or a person in a coma) time, duration, or an exotic place.
Settings have inspired writers as diverse as Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Hardy. Settings are not only visual, they contain the spirit of a time and a place.
Historical novels may not be at their height of popularity right now, but reminiscing about past times and lives have been literary inspiration to authors from Tolstoy to Proust to James Baldwin to Toni Morrison.
In my series, LA Blues, the setting of Los Angeles with its multicultural world, acts as a character.
• Write five descriptions of settings that speak to your spirit.
Start with the town you grew up in.
Think of the evocative portrayals that the great L.A. mystery writers have created, from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to current writers like Walter Mosley. Remember how vividly Steinbeck captured the world of the Salinas Valley, and William Faulkner portrayed his
fictional east-of-the-Mississippi Delta Yoknaphatawpha County.
J.R.R. Tolkein created a fictional Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings.
As you write, consider elements of time, place, what is important to people in your setting, and the things that they experience. Pick a specific point of view, place, and time within your setting. You can write either a narrated description (told by a storyteller) or use a viewpoint character to describe your three settings.
Things to consider and questions to answer as you create your settings and worlds:
How does setting inform your fiction? How will you use significant details?
Setting your novel in certain places, certain times, sets your stage. (For example, people during the Civil Rights Era had different concerns than the Hip Hop Generation.)
What is the cultural environment and how do you make that element parts of the story?
Is the story set in the 60‘s, 70’s, 80’s? How were people born in different decades shaped? For instance, the late African American playwright, August Wilson, wrote plays, which addressed different concerns Blacks faced in different decades during the twentieth century.
How can you use the setting to move and show the story?
How does the social and historical context shape your character’s world?
What are the values of the people who live in this world?
·Where does the story take place? When does it take place?
Who or what lives there?
How large is it—physically and population-wise? (It could be an outer space community.)
·What does it look like?
·What type of government are the people under?
·What type of economy are the people experiencing?
·How does this world treat its citizens? Are the experiences of some groups different from others? (For example: females vs. males, certain races vs. others, children vs. adults, aliens vs. humans, etc.)
Is this world similar to a real time and place in human history? (If it is, why? If it is science fiction, create your story world.)
Because I‘m interested in that period of history‖ is a fine answer)
Is it a happy place or despicable place?
Make your setting as alive as a character.
Using time travel methods, what would a resident of your world say if they visited our world today?
·What would you say if you got a chance to visit your imaginary world and report back?
In conclusion, setting in your writing can play a significant role in creating a great story, which endures the test of time.
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About the Blogger: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, blogger, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. As an editor, she has edited/ghostwritten numerous best-selling books (Including New York Times Best Selling books), for African Americans, including many books for men and women who are incarcerated in the prison system. In a down economy, as a literary agent, she has negotiated over 100 book deals for African Americans. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), a contributor to bestselling anthologies, Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club best-seller, and Kindle Bestseller).
She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, and Capri’s Second Chance, contributor to Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.
Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a small Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.