- The best way to learn to master setting is by reading other books that have done just that. One novel that sets the scene better than maybe any other book I’ve read is To Kill a Mockingbird. Here’s one example of the masterfulness of her scene-setting:
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop, grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.” You don’t get better than that.
- Go feel the roses.
It might go without saying to go to the place you are setting your work, but I’m going to say it anyway. Close your eyes and listen, first to the obvious sounds: sirens, traffic, subway, whatever. Don’t stop there. Listen for the underlying background noise: car doors slamming, the flutter of pigeon wings. Listen beyond that to the softer noises until you’ve made note of all the sounds the setting has to offer. When your eyes are closed and you’re noting a particular sound, before you open your eyes, try to guess what you’re hearing.
While writing DRIFTWOOD TIDES, I sat on the beach, closed my eyes and heard what I would have guessed to be a sprinkler system rapidly firing. I knew it couldn’t be, but that’s what it sounded like. It was actually the sound of chirping cicadas and the sprinkler system description was something I was able to use to describe that sound in the book.
You can do the same close your eyes technique for smell and touch too. Write down as many descriptions and comparisons as you can while they’re still fresh in your mind.
- If you can’t go there, visit vicariously. Watch movies set where your book is, take lots of notes.
- Observe the details. One little trick that brings fiction to life lies in writing in the little things that we take for granted. Not just the sandy beach, but the water that fills a footprint left in the sand… watch how it’s absorbed back into the ground and the tiny bubbles that pop up right before it does.
Have you read any particular authors that make their settings real? What do you do to help you set the scene?
by Gina Holmes
He made himself an island until something unexpected washed ashore.
When Holton lost his wife, Adele, in a freak accident, he shut himself off from the world, living a life of seclusion, making drifwood sculptures and drowning his pain in gin. Until twenty-three-year-old Libby knocks on his door, asking for a job and claiming to be a friend of his late wife. When he discovers Libby is actually his late wife’s illegitimate daughter, given up for adoption without his knowledge, his life is turned upside down as he struggles to accept that the wife he’d given saint status to was not the woman he thought he knew.
Together Holton and Libby form an unlikely bond as the two struggle to learn the identity of Libby’s father and the truth about Adele, themselves, and each other.