Please welcome guest poster Louise Ross! Today, Louise is chatting about how the great outdoors influences the settings she writes about.
Louise Ross writes fantasy from the comfort of her own brain, which can sometimes be a very disturbed and/or a very quirky place.
Traditional writing advice is often huge and all encompassing, and when it comes to setting, the tips I most often hear include: the setting should be relevant; don’t discuss something that won’t later be used, i.e. Chekov’s gun; setting should add to characterization; setting should be a character; etc. For every piece of advice there is an exception.
What the advice often leaves out is how to do the things suggested. If setting is a character, does it need a character arc like the raising, occurrence and decline of a hurricane? If it adds to my character, does it always have to be raining when my character is sad? What if I really want my readers to know that there are deer outside the house even though those deer will not return later to chew through the most important piece of evidence in the murder case?
My take on setting and the great outdoors is that we need to add in the things that create the novel’s world, strengthens the story telling, and builds the story’s tone. Because this month’s theme is the great outdoors, I’m looking at nature settings specifically.
Let’s say I want to have my character John be conflicted about whether he should propose to Jane. I might write:
John’s fist balled around the ring in his pocket, and he paced, berating himself for hoping a girl as wild as Jane would tie herself to one man.
I could add things besides setting, but that’s not the purpose of this article. I could add in setting that created tone without specifically interacting with my character.
River water splashed against the bank, swirling in eddies and escaping only to crest against the current. Pacing along the bank, John’s fist balled around the ring in his pocket as he berated himself for hoping a girl as wild as Jane would tie herself to one man.
I could add setting that meant to describe or compare to the characters.
John’s fist balled around the ring in his pocket and circling an oak dripping with moss. The thin strands floated free, ready to drift at any moment to another tree, John berated himself for hoping a girl as free-floating as Jane would latch herself to one man.
Setting can also be used to help ground the reader. Setting and nature are particularly useful in science fiction or fantasy because even when there are differences, the similarity to our world gives the reader a starting place.
John’s fist balled around the ring in his pocket and paced, berating himself for hoping a girl as wild as Jane would tie herself to one man. Purple foliage covered the path, creating deep maroon footprints in his wake. Patches of green light filtered through, and the whole path was a piece of abstract art, tumultuous and openly bleeding like his heart.
I guess all this was to say, settings and particularly nature are important elements of writing, whether used to build a world, further the character, set the tone, or just round out the story. There don’t have to be Tolkein-esque chapters devoted to describing the scenery or the great outdoors. A few words or a sentences are usually enough to give the reader a feel, and a bit scenery and setting give the impression that the story is happening in a place much larger than the specific action.