Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creating Unique and a Wonderful Setting

Just like real estate is all about location, location, location, our books are all about setting, setting and setting: unusual, amazing, innovative and larger than life. The wonderful worlds that we create  are responsible for readers getting lost in it for hours. Isn’t that the hallmark of a successful book? To transport a reader into another world. To make him or her forget their  problems for some time.
Settings take to time to create. But they are really worth the effort and time required to create them.  I have realized that before I start any book, I will take few days to brainstorm,  to create  a setting (which is especially important for the MG  Fantasy Fiction I write) and plot the book out.

When I read the Potter books I was lost in the setting. Hogwarts was a wonderful creation, as was the world of wizards. The way  the dead wizards moved between their portraits, the way wizards travelled  with the help of floo powder via chimneys, the different spells; in particular the Patronus spell,  the subjects taught in the wizarding school, and the  magical creatures swamping the wizarding world.  Quidditch ( the game wizards played ) in particular had the children going berserk  over it. I am sure Rowling must have spent a lot of time  and thought in creating the wonderful setting, which has mesmerized both young and old.

I am no setting expert. Whatever I have learnt is  via trial and error, but   I would still like to share it.

If we are creating an alternate world, then we have to look after every aspect of it. It’s like when we shift into a new house, every little detail is taken care of: from the flooring to the wall covering, from curtains to furniture, from taps to windows, to how each room is decorated.

If we use that method  for creating a setting, I am sure we all will do just fine. If we have created another land we  can add people peculiar to that place: people  to be found no where else in the world. The way they dress, their language, quaint customs and habits make for an interesting read. The food they eat, the way they talk, the games they play. Their beliefs and culture.  The fauna and flora can be different and unique.  

Setting needs the element of  the unusual: what is not found in the normal world but is peculiar to that world: of our story/book. If our story is based on a past event, then  research takes care of the setting. But if it’s a world of make believe, then  we are only restricted by our imagination.

 But one thing I have learnt, that a setting has to be believable. A far fetched setting tends to ruin the plot. A setting depends a lot on descriptions, to bring it to life  before the reader’s eyes. Some writers have mastered the art of  making  setting as a character in their books.

What about you all? How do you all handle the setting  in your books? Will you share your setting tips with us? 


  1. Thanks for this wonderful post, Rachna. Its full of helpful advice and tips.

  2. I usually stick to settings I am familiar with--places I've lived etc that way I won't trip up.

  3. My novel is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Close to where I live. I went there several times to get a feel for it, even though I'd been there many times. I wanted to take in the atmosphere. I even talked to a forest ranger from there. Asked her about the wild animals, plants, etc. that lived there. I had a beta tell me that there couldn't be a river in there. It must be a stream. I knew there was a river, with lots of fish. :)

    The only time you can have a far fetched setting is when you write science fiction as my writing partner Beth does. Her debut comes out in January. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. It's about leaving earth and traveling to another earth in a ship that looks like earth inside it. That's when you can have bizarre settings. :)

  4. I love having fun with the setting. It can influence everything from the language to the food to the clothes to the furniture to the weather to the crises.

    Without a solid understanding of the setting a story won't be oomplete.

    Great post, Rachna!


  5. I love settings. I love making things different, off, odd, and interesting while keeping an eye on that believable line.

    But you have given me knew things to think about with my settings so thank you!

  6. I enjoy world building and setting, but not as much as I used to for the simple reason that I once enjoyed it more than writing. Once upon a time, I got so wrapped up in world building, it took me forever to write a story for that world. So nowadays I try to distribute the weight more toward the writing part which may not be the best route, either. They may need equal time, especially since I'm creating a new world. I do base my settings on real places so whenever possible, I travel to those places and take copious notes. Great post!

  7. I think Victoria Dixon's experience happens to a lot of fantasy writers: ask them what their book is about, and they'll describe the setting, not the plot.

    As a reader, I get frustrated when there's too much setting description. Especially when it's set in the mundane world. We don't need to know the color of the flowers on Aunt Mildred's wall paper and how many lace doilies grace the furniture. We need to know Aunt M's house "looks as if Victoria were still sitting on the throne." We'll get the picture from our own memory banks.

  8. I'm probably not the best person to advice on settings, as description is not my strongest point. But I agree with what you're saying. Even if your story is set on another planet, the reader needs to believe it really exists.

  9. Good to think about! The books I write are historical fiction, requiring a lot of research. I've had to discipline myself to find out enough to write the story, then flesh it out with further research in successive rewrites. But I agree that a believable story depends on a believable setting. I just finished reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and even though each world is a fantasy world he makes them feel concrete and real. It's remarkable what he does.

  10. My setting is in the near future, perhaps 100 years or so. Just when I get really creative with one scene, I have to think up the setting for the next and it's exhausting!
    But fun.

  11. Setting is one of the most important features I need to have firmly in place before I can even write word one. I really need to explore and visit it in my minds eye so I can aptly create a believable world.

  12. I like how you called setting as another character in the book. I've not thought of it that way before. I do like an interesting setting -- it adds to the overall magic of the story.

  13. Curious, Rachna, if you think writing fantasy settings is easier or more difficult than writing a real-life setting. I think fantasy settings would be much more difficult since you do have to rely 100% on your own imagination... I, at least, have my surroundings to help me when I get stuck!

  14. I always pick places I've seen, many of which I've LIVED.
    Since my fourth novel, "Reclaiming Lily," is set in China, I drew from the appearance and hospitality in the home of the lovely Wang family, my hosts.

    It's just easier that way for me to SEE things.

  15. Melissa, I think that both the fantasy setting and real life setting are equally difficult. In a real life setting one has to recreate authentically the place one has visited, while in a fantasy setting the writer has to rely heavily on imagination.I feel that for a fantasy setting we are not answerable to anyone and can take few liberties. The same does not work for a real life setting.