books · discussions · Shar

What Makes a Setting Good?

Hello Virtually Readers! This is technically not my week but I didn’t write a post yesterday so I thought I would now. Basically, I started thinking about setting because of our Bookish Planet feature (see Part I and Part II ) so now you will be subjected to my analysis of setting.

 

What is a setting?

If you don’t know what a setting is, firstly, I am very surprised. It’s kind of an important part of a book. Anyway, a setting is the time and place in which a story occurs. I’m going to analyse and give examples of 5 important aspects of setting.

 

  1. Description

This is the most important aspect of setting. It helps you to know what the time and place that the scene is occurring is like. Is it dark? Is it in a park, or inside a house, or in a car. Without description, the story might as well be occurring in a white box. And if it is happening in a white box, then what is that like? Description could say how high the boxes walls are, and what is inside the box, and how it feels to be in the box.

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  1. Detail

This is kind of like a subset of description but just go with it. Detail is important because it makes the setting unique. Right now I am sitting at a table. That’s a description, but it’s pretty boring. But if I say that I’m witting at a long wooden table made of several polished planks with a window on one side shining morning light onto my fingers, then this generic table becomes more unique. Basically, by being specific, detail makes a setting unique.

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  1. No infodumping

While my table description before was very detailed and descriptive, it was also a bit boring. Nothing was happening. Suppose in a book, the amount of words used to describe various aspects of setting take up 3 chapters (and honestly, it’s probably more) If a book used it’s first three chapeters just on setting, I would get bored, no matter how good the details and descriptions are. You want details and descriptions, but setting, in my opinion, is a need-to know basis. If I don’t need to know what the battlefield where the finale takes places is like at the beginning of the book is, don’t tell me. I won’t care, and also I might forget it. Dispersing the details and descriptions with plot is very important to avoid boredom.

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  1. Showing, not telling

This is something that is used a lot in writing, but I’m going to talk about it as a reader. Being shown what the setting is like rather than told makes the setting feel so much more real. Let’s look at the table example. I described the table, but it was very tell-y. If I said ‘Shar dropped her cereal bowl with a bang on to the table. She traced the lines where the polish had worn off with her finger as she hastily ate her cornflakes. ‘ This isn’t perfect, but it’s not just plain statements about what the table looks like. (I’m not a great writer, and so this isn’t going to be the best example)

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  1. Realisticness

So far I’ve mainly talked about the ‘place’ aspect of setting. But let’s talk about time. My little sister watches a show occasionally called Dinosaur Train. I think it amuses her, which is good, but I personally find it very silly because dinosaurs happened millions of years ago. Steam trains happened about two hundred years ago. It makes no sense. A good setting should be realistic. If the characters have to walk 5 kilometres, it’s got to take time. And places also look different at different times. A good setting should have a reasonable progression of time, and attention to detail should include how the time of day is making the place look as well as the era (if it’s in the real world) affects the place.

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What settings do you like? Does this makes sense? Is it all really obvious? What have I missed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “What Makes a Setting Good?

  1. I like reading fiction with massive information dumping, su ch as found in works of Melville and Hugo; and my preferences will not be mutilated by any of your propaganda; consequently, I will not refrain from continuing proudly to provide incessant information dumps. Likewise, I will continue to violate your evil “show, don ‘t tell” commandment remorselessly.

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    1. Nobody is preventing you from having an opinion; this ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra is my opinion, one that I believe many people agree with. Further, I am convinced that while info dumping is a decision on your part, it will not necessarily grant you the appreciation you so seem to desire. Fundamentally, the only thing that matters is that you are wrong, at least in this aspect.

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  2. Setting I think is that forgotten essential element that is seriously important, but is often overlooked just because it isn’t corporeal. And it’s hard to write. Like you said, infodumping is bad but it is SO TEMPTING. D: How else can I share the details of this world I write in? (That is a rhetorical question; I don’t expect you to know.) This is such an important thing to keep in mind, though.

    (Also, exactly how do you suggest the dinosaurs engage in time-travel without a train? Hmmmmm?)

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    1. If I was going to time travel, I’d need a train, I suppose. I can’t say I’ve watched enough to say more (except I know there’s pteradons and an adopted T-rex or something). No, I won’t attempt to answer your rhetorical question. You’re so right: It’s super hard to find a balance between not including enough information and info dumping because LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THE WORLD I CREATED IS. It’s hard to remember to be like : oh yeah, let’s talk about what stuff looks like where the action is happening and not just talk about where the action is happening and not what it is.

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  3. THIS POST IS AWESOME!!! I have a really hard time including setting, especially in my contemporary stories, but you hit on all the important parts and explained them really well. Especially the bit about infodumping: if it’s not important, I as the reader probably will forget it by the time it /is/ important. Almost everything in the story, actually, has to be fed to the reader on a need-to-know basis in order to keep tension and keep their interest.

    So yeah. Awesome. 😀

    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks! I’m glad you found it helpful! I totally agree about the need-to-know basis thing. Books that tell you things that you don’t need to know end up feeling tangential and irrelevant.

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  4. Agh, what is it with kiddie TV shows and not making sense? Like my biggest pet peeve is the ones about animals that have pets. No. You cannot be a talking bear and raise chickens. YOU JUST CAN’T. IT DOESN’T WORK.
    Ahem. Sorry, what were we talking about? OH YEAH. SETTINGS. 😂
    I agree that info-dumping is the worst, and also telling us the setting instead of showing it. Ugh. That drives me bonkers. I just recently read Wink Poppy Midnight and I LOVED how it really showed the settings with sensory description. ❤
    (Also I haven't seen that cover of The Book Thief before and I like it!)

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    1. Animals that have pets are the actual worst. Like really. Wink Poppy Midnight intrigues me just with the title! *googles is* it also sounds intriguing! I think this was a British edition of The Book Thief (I was given it by my parents English friend who went to a bookshop and basically asked what all the teenagers were reading these days) I feel like settings often only get the ‘what does it look like’ description rather than the smell and taste and feel and sound. Maybe authors should work on this.

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  5. I love this post! Since I’m trying to write, it’s really helpful as well, ahah. I have to say, the setting is so important in a story, and there are so many ways to make it stand out. By showing, by being original, by sticking to some details that make it stand out from any other setting… And YES, even if it’s a fantastic, dystopian setting, it must feel real for us readers to relate to it etc.Great post! 🙂

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    1. Thank you Marie! I was thinking about how this is like a reading/writing crossover. And yes, realisticness is very, very important. *nods sagely* A good setting really makes a book, and it’s so nice with series how at least the world is familiar and you can get a really good sense of what it’s like over multiple books without info dumping. Good luck with your writing! ❤

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