Setting and tone – setting the tone

by juliusmsanz

I considered following up on my previous post but, to write about the potential of books is something that takes time, and time is limited today.

So let’s talk about something that is underrated. Let’s talk about setting.

I read all these posts talking about plot and characters and development and everything else, and I feel that the setting is brushed aside.

What is this setting?

You see, you can sum up the setting as the descriptions about the time and place where the story takes place. So if you’re writing about ancient japan, you can say that the setting is japan, for example the Sengoku period. Sounds easy right? You just have to do some research, create some characters and places, develop them a bit and it’s done. Wait, that doesn’t sound all that simple.

For me, setting can be also confused with the tone of the story. I’m a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft. And while he’s a bit of a racist and also a bit ignorant, he knew how to make the setting and tone of his stories the most important thing. You can feel the oppression and fear, you can just feel scared and distrustful by his descriptions and overall tone of his tales. This is especially useful if you’re writing horror, but in truth can be applied to any genre.

If you write that your character is coming home from work at night, it’s just that. It adds nothing to your story, but if you take the time to develop the atmosphere and his surroundings you can flesh not only your world but get under your reader’s skin. If you say for example that it’s raining and the street lamps are starting to fade, you can show just a little bit more and make your character more worried. If you say that weird noises started to be heard and that the character can feel something unnatural about that dark night, then you are creating tension. If you say that garbage has been scattered at random in the middle of the street and that the walls were filled with graffiti, then you know for example that the character is, or could be, in a bad part of town.

scary houseI saw a house yesterday. OH REALLY?!

It’s easy to develop the setting, but it’s also easy to forget about it.

Now while I do enjoy Lovecraft I feel he exaggerates, you don’t need to fill tens of pages in a row with these references alone. Don’t fall into the trap of describing endlessly, show your world, don’t abuse it.

What else can you say about the tone of your story?

It can turn a fairy tale into a nightmare of hellish proportions and vice-versa. It’s fun to work on these things, and more often than not it will help you move your story along by introducing interesting characters. That’s the beauty of it, you can work it anyway you like, your world will sound more real to your reader and even yourself. Remember this: your characters aren’t talking heads and don’t live in a void, so flesh out the setting, don’t make it sit in the back. Your readers will appreciate you more if you do so.

Ok, that is all for today, see you again tomorrow!