As a companion to characters, plot, and theme, a setting can magnify the emotional tone and mood of your story. Bring locations to life. How? Personify your story settings.
Create Memorable Settings
Design settings that resonate with readers long after they close your book.
- Think how the moving staircases in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft enhanced the magical aspects of the Harry Potter films.
- In The Lord of the Rings, assess how the detailed descriptions of Middle Earth amplified the story’s emotional mood and tone.
- Take a trip down memory lane and remember your surprise and delight at the different settings in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Consider other books and films where the settings played significant roles. For example, Sherlock Holmes, Watership Down, and The Shining.
How do you personify a setting?
Similar to describing traits in a character profile, decide how each setting will:
- Move the story forward?
- Help you develop characters’ thoughts, choices, words, and actions?
- Affect the hero’s emotions, external goal, and inner need?
- Expand or exacerbate hero’s problems based on historical events?
- Increase the hero’s conflicts with people or environment?
- Shape the hero’s actions toward others?
- Showcase the affect of weather and lighting on characters?
- Control the outcome of one or more scenes?
- Influence what characters see, hear, smell, touch, or taste?
- Create vivid images that evoke a visceral response?
Convert your answers into descriptions
Use the answers to describe a setting based on your style and genre. For example, here are a couple of ways you can satisfy readers’ expectations:
- Long-form Description – Write two or three paragraphs using vivid words that conjure up detailed images. The first time you introduce a location, use the long-form description, but instead of a single info-dump, creatively intertwine the paragraphs with action and dialogue.
- Short-form Description – Summarize the long-form description in one or two sentences, but leave in specific words that convey the desired mood and tone. Later, as needed, update and use short-form descriptions to remind readers of how a location remains essential to the story.
I encourage you to customize a reusable Setting Template for your genre. Similar to creating profiles for each character, use Scrivener to write a long and short description for each setting.
Need help conveying tone and mood?
I highly recommend these books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi:
- The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writers Guide to Personal and Natural Places
- The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces
Use these resources to surprise and delight readers. Make locations come alive—personify your story settings.