Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tips for Writers: Taking Your Setting From Static to Fantastic

Author Carla Capshaw is here this week on Writer’s Journey Wednesday to share how a setting can enhance a story. Dawn here. Authors have talked about giving personality to a character’s environment, but Carla’s explanation and examples helped make it click for me. Enjoy!

Tips for Writers: Taking Your Setting
From Static to Fantastic

If I were a betting girl, I’d wager we’ve all read at least one book that could be considered a “wallpaper” book. You know, the kind of story that if it weren’t for the time stamp at the beginning of chapter one or the occasional reference to ball gowns instead of bell bottoms, you’d be hard pressed to remember if the book took place in 1875 or 1975. Regardless of its other redeeming qualities, a “wallpaper” lacks color and pizzazz. There’s a reason jewelers display diamonds on blue velvet. The light may be what makes them sparkle, but it’s the rich background that makes them most noticeable.

As writers, we want every facet of our story to shine. We obsess about plot and characters. We spend hours weaving elaborate back stories, imagining every detail from the flecks of gold in our hero’s eyes to the height of our heroine’s shoe heels. We dream up conflicts we hope seem impossible to overcome and do our best to make certain we have a “because” for every “why.”

Depending on the genre, most of us have spent hours researching historical accuracies, legal proceedings, or devising the rules of our own Paranormal world. So, how is possible, then, that our settings are often relegated to background static instead of being used as a full-fledged orchestra?

In my books, I get to visit a wide range of times and places, but in my opinion a great setting is more than just a certain year or country. To me, it’s what makes the word pictures we write high definition instead of fuzzy black and white.

Here are a few ways I like to use setting to best advantage:

• Use weather or seasons to emphasis your character’s story arc. For example, in my latest release, The Protector, I used the cold, damp days of a Roman winter to magnify the loneliness of my heroine’s life. As the story progresses, she and the hero travel to the Amalfi coast where the warmth and color of their surroundings mirrors the happiness they’re experiencing together.

• Use setting as a metaphor for your character’s inner emotions. In my book, The Duke’s Redemption, a storm outside is like the tempest of pain raging in my hero after he receives the news of his brother’s death.

• Use a contrasting setting to magnify a character’s personality. Ex: Nothing escaped Agnes’s dreary disposition. Even the daisies lining the garden path seemed to wilt when she walked by.

• Use setting to highlight a character’s circumstances. Ex: Before the war, the Smiths had known every luxury. Now, the parlor’s curtains and threadbare rugs were as faded as the family’s glory.

• Remember to engage not only the characters’ senses, but the readers, too. Whatever the scene, include as much sound, taste, touch, etc. as possible.

I hope these ideas have helped to get your creative juices flowing. What are some of the techniques you use to make the most of your settings?

Florida native Carla Capshaw always dreamed of being a writer and world traveler, she followed her wanderlust around the globe before beginning work on her first novel. A two-time Rita nominee, Carla loves passionate stories with compelling, nearly impossible conflicts. She's found inspirational historical romance is the perfect vehicle to combine lush settings, vivid characters and a Christian worldview. Currently at work on her next novel, she still lives in Florida, but is always planning her next trip…and plotting her next story. Carla loves to hear from readers.

You can learn more at
To contact her, visit her Web site or write:


  1. Carla, first I have to say that book cover sure gets one's attention. Sometime in the last month or more I was over at Amazon and saw it. :) Secondly, these are great ideas on setting! Thanks for sharing them and for visiting here on SW. I'm going to print your article to have on hand as I'm writing. It's going into my "tool box." :D

  2. Hi Carla! Your example of a diamond on dark velvet is brilliant. There's a pun in there, but I can't pull it out.

    As a writer I sometimes think of the setting as a character, something that has to be given depth and description. Since the setting is experienced by the characters, it's going to reflect their emotions. Hmmm, that's exactly what you just said!

  3. Annette - I thought the same thing. What a handsome hero!

    I'm also keeping this article in my special folder. I loved the example about the daisies.

    My apologies to Carla and early risers on the east coast. I accidently had this article pre-scheduled to post for 12:30 PM instead of AM.

  4. Carla,
    A good reminder for me. I'm never sure if I let setting settle into the background or use it to background the characters. :-)

    Love the cover.


  5. How well I know your feelings on description - my favorite comment is 'you have two talking heads'. Luckily for me you never give up and I think I am learning about description and get happy nods from my CP now. I love those smiley faces.

    You have made lots of great points. I also saved them.

    Your stories are wonderful and pull the reader in and take them to a new place and to new experience in history. I recommend them to everone and have a special place on my shelf to keep them safe. ;)

  6. Wonderful examples, Carla! I often use the weather to reflect the character's inner conflict, and word choice is SO important when trying to impart a mood or a state of mind. Very nice post.

  7. Carla, first off, I have to say I adore your cover! What a handsome hero :-)

    Now, drooling aside, what great examples. I love the daisy one -it's so evocative of both emotion, character and setting and says so much in so few words.

  8. Thank you Carla, for great advice. Setting is almost another character in my international stories where the protagonists react according to their cultures and see their surroundings with different eyes. What a gorgeous cover.

  9. Ooh I'm so excited that we're going to be treated to another fabulous Carla Capshaw book!

    What a great post - I think setting is so important and it's the details that bring a story to life. But, more importantly, it's the right detials, used effectively, as you've suggested.

    I found this with my hockey books - I did research by going to practice and going 'back-stage' at a hockey arena - it added another dimension to everything I wrote to know how things sound on the ice or what it felt like to walk out of the tunnel. Then to see it all from my hero's perspective, given the context of his emotions.

  10. All very good points. Setting definitely enhances a story. In writing historicals, I find that time period (what was going on then) determines a lot of the plot.
    The more I research the Regency period, the more I realize how little I knew when I wrote my first regency, or second, or third...
    I recently read a regency by a very well-known author, and the neighborhood her heroine lived in didn't exist in 1815!
    I thought to myself, I almost made the same mistake back in my first regency, but thanks to a critique partner, she caught the mistake!

  11. Great blog, Carla.

    Two RITA two published books...that pretty IMPRESSIVE!


  12. Love your cover, Carla !
    Setting is always one of the hardest things for me. And almost always one of the last things I layer into the story.


  13. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for posting! I'm so glad some of you were able to find something to help with your writing.


  14. Hey everyone, Dawn and I are enjoying all the comments today! Would you like to get involved, too?

    If you are a Christian writer and would like to post on SW, please email me (for craft-related articles of 250-500 words) --- annette [at] annetteirby [dot] com

    Or Dawn for encouragement posts (same length) --- dawnkinzer [at] comcast [dot] net. Thanks!! We'd love to promote your work as with Carla's post today.

    Thanks again Carla for bringing your "tribe" over. And for your great post. :)

  15. Carla, these are such great tips! Thanks for sharing them *g*

    Love your cover ;-)

  16. Carla, thanks for the fabulous tips! I LOVED THE GLADIATOR & am so excited about your upcoming stories!!! Your an amazing writer!


  17. Carla,

    Fantastic suggestions. I'm printing them out now, as a reminder. I'm a craft junkie, always looking for new tips.

    By the way, CONGRATS on your writing success. Two RITA nods on your debut. Woohoooooo, you make us all look good!


  18. I like your "wallpaper book." I've read them (and maybe have even written a couple). Great tips on how NOT to do that. Thanks.

    Jane Myers Perrine


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