Effective Setting Techniques – Tips by USA Today Bestselling Author Mary Buckham

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© Mary Buckham

Carrie De Simas

Editor in Chief @ GoneWithTheWord

What is the most common mistake that writers make in regards to setting?

MB: I’d say it’s assuming the reader can see what the author sees, or what the characters are meant to be seeing. But if we don’t give the reader enough information they are left to their own assumptions. Example: what do you think a pond looks like? Is that going to be the same image as someone who lives in East Texas, London or Alaska reading about your story set in North Dakota, Thailand or Somalia? If the Setting matters to the story let the reader see and experience what your character sees and responds to in that specific Setting. Being vague and obscure leaves the readers at arm’s length from your story.

How can writers successfully use setting as a metaphor or symbol (either of theme or character development?)

MB: Change how a character interacts with a specific Setting over the course of a book, or even within a scene, and you’ll show the reader that the character is growing and changing. The Setting thus acts as catalyst and barometer for change and can enhance the theme you as the author have created for the story.

Some authors use long setting/worldbuilding descriptions in their scenes. What advice would you give these authors so they don’t lose readers like me who skim through these parts in search of action again?

MB: Long sections of narrative description, of any kind, tend to make a reader’s eyes roll. With limited time to read more readers want to not only absorb more of your story in quicker bites, but also want to experience your story on a deeper level. By threading Setting description through one POV character at a time, adding in sensory detail, weaving action into Setting description, as well as revealing back story and conflict via Setting you are making your prose work harder while avoiding big narrative info dumps.

How can writers use setting to reveal character?

MB: As in real life we each experience a Setting in a different way, so by using that fact with our characters we can show who’s comfortable in a honky-tonk, who feels out of place, who can’t wait to leave a Setting that another character will fight tooth and toenail to remain in, the possibilities are limitless. This also forces us as writers to get out of our heads and into the emotions, memories, and experiences of our characters. 

In your setting book, you talk about aligning setting details with the POV character’s viewpoint. Why is this so important?

MB: Details are what can bring a story alive and Setting lends itself to layering in the details; the scent of an orange grove, the sherbet colors of a Kansas sunset, the skeleton of an aspen tree specific to one area and not another. All these details pull your reader deeper into your story to live it along with the POV characters. That’s a win-win for author and for readers.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    As always – great words of wisdom, Mary! Thank you. And also thank you to Carrie for your insightful questions.

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