Monday, July 22, 2013

Setting as a Living Thing

     I love this photo. It's a visual summary of what every great setting should have: depth, mood, and a story of its own.
     We road-tripped through the country one evening after dinner to this spot, to this barely-there cemetery at the end of a dusty, white gravel road, hidden amongst a grove of old-growth oaks and maples. Some of the markers had been eaten away by the elements and the encroaching trees and shrubs. If you looked into the woods at the perimeter, you'd see more gravestones here and there, ones that hadn't been swallowed by ground cover and rotting timber. It was dark in those woods. Coupled with an eerie quiet, the place seemed ageless and a bit chill-inducing in the approaching dusk.
     In The Fire in Fiction, author Donald Maass writes, "It is the combination of setting details and the emotions attached to them that, together, make a place a living thing."
     Leaving the cemetery, we drove to the next town over to get ice cream. Even while we sat outside on the cement tables and enjoyed our root beer floats, my thoughts returned to the graves and the shadowy woods, and the feelings associated with that lonely, quiet spot among the trees. I look at this picture now and I can easily recall those same emotions one year later. As Maass suggests, bringing real-life experiences to the fictional worlds we create help them come alive.



  1. Lovely, Dawn.
    I, too, have a "photo guide." I used it for a long time, then found I needed to change it...
    New setting.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Leandra! And thank you for the follow!

  3. Great post! Setting definitely should be a living thing and a character in itself.

  4. So true, Dawn. There's nothing like real life experience. Last weekend I had the chance to visit a small island that was the inspiration for my latest WIP. I'd been reading about it and watching videos on the subject for the past year, but none of that compared to getting to be there and experience it for myself.

    1. And I've found a huge difference between having experienced a setting BEFORE you start writing versus visiting while in the midst of a WIP. Certain details become more important to the telling of the story, so those are the ones I naturally want to pay particular attention to.


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