From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, March 5, 2012

Magic ingredients for the perfect setting

To be frank, most of the discussions I've had on the subject of setting have been in relation to theater. Which makes sense, but I definitely think it can be applied to writing. I take a pretty minimalist approach to setting, basically meaning that I believe your reader must know exactly where they are, but not necessarily be distracted by it. Your characters can be distracted, but probably not your reader. Anyway, some pretty smart people have told me some pretty wise things about setting, so lets see what we can pull together here.

Five Senses. What does your setting look like? That is an obvious one. But go further. What does it smell like, sound like, feel like? What does the air taste like?

Room Conflict. In theater, room conflict is a term that basically means whatever way the actual room the characters are in is escalating the conflict. So, for example, if the air conditioning is broken and its sweltering hot, or the neighbors are blasting Eminem and you can't quite hear what the other person is saying, or it smells like rotted milk or there's a pipe leaking. A couple trying to decide who's going to take the kids this weekend is interesting. It's much more interesting if the house is being painted and they have to talk around an eavesdropping painting crew.

Inescapable. When you give your characters a conflict and put them in a place they can't leave, it forces exciting things to happen. Stuck them in an elevator or a car or a family dinner. Especially family dinners. Those can be rife with dramatic tension.

Amp it up. I'm definitely guilty of having too many scenes set in a kitchen. But when possible I try to move them to grocery stores or baseball stadiums or somewhere where its easier for the setting to play a more exciting role.

Here is a list of potential places for you to set up your scenes:

Police station
Bus stop
On a boat
Family dinner
Company meeting
Rest home
The Vatican
School for the blind
Road trip
Back stage

What do you think? Think these might help? What other ideas would you add for making your setting fantabulous?

Sarah Allen


  1. I love setting (perhaps too much) And I am in love with this idea of room conflict. Thank you so much for putting a name to that for me.

  2. I want to set a scene at the Vatican! Love these tips--I'm always looking for ways to improve my setting description.

  3. I love that idea of putting them somewhere they can't escape. Instant tension!

  4. I love how you point out we need to bring out the 5 senses. When I'm reading a book, I get totally immersed in a scene if the author does that. I FEEL like I'm there, and I just love it.

  5. Love this post. Great things to think about. I especially like the idea of the Room Conflict. Hmmmmm....I'll be chewing on that thought for awhile....

    Thanks for sharing! (I found you on inkPageant)

  6. I love blog posts about settings: you can have so much fun with worlds. This post is a great roundup of the points to remember.

  7. My characters spend far too much time in empty white rooms. I'm working on it :-)

  8. These are definitely helpful! I think any time you change the scenery it adds a bit of depth to your story.

  9. But you have to be careful at the same time not to get too overly descriptive with your settings. I've read a number of things where I find myself saying, "Ok, I get it, you've painted the picture, now what's happening!?!?"


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