Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On Setting, as it relates to: Living, Loving New Hampshire Again

My summer vacation with the kids was truly incredible. It was wonderful to connect with family and friends. The days were so full of sunshine, sailing, boating, fishing, and swimming, it was amazing to think I actually found time to sit back and relax in one place from time to time and simply enjoy the scenery.

Yet, even in those quiet moments, I was reminded of how when we settle down and be still, the world continues to move and breathe and fill in all the spaces around us with some form of energy, however subtle that may be.

The same can be said for writing, or more specifically, for writing about settings. (Yes, I always try to connect my posts to the subject). In a previous post, I said that a story is lost without a sense of setting. However, a setting is not simply colors and temperatures and textures and sounds. It's not enough to say, "The ridge was lined with green trees."

It's important that the setting be layered with a sense of movement, or energy.

Avi begins The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle with a setting that moves with the character:

Just before dusk in the late afternoon of June 16, 1832, I found myself walking along the crowded docks of Liverpool, England, following a man by the name of Grummage.


In Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz's setting seems nearly alive:

Lakes were scattered all over this part of the country, their outlines different, but their innards just the same. They were drops and drips and splashes on the land. They were holes and craters lined with skin too thin to hold back the springs that rushed to fill them, and most of them were dotted here and there with stubborn little islands, knobs of land that refused to dip their heads under water.


Good stories are written with settings that carry their own form of action, their own essense of life. In the real world, in nature, we become unsettled when something goes wrong, when the world becomes suddenly still--like the calm before the storm, causing us to stop, step back, and wonder what has happened.

Likewise, a reader can be thrown out of a story, or become disengaged, when the setting is too quiet, or too stark, or too absent (unless that in itself is part of the storyline). If too much is missing, if the reader doesn't become connected with a living world inside a book--one that moves and pulses with energy--then the reader isn't likely to stay too long. They'll wonder what is wrong, and perhaps, if they can't connect on a personal level with the character, they may walk away and connect with the energy of another.

I'm happy to say, my vacation, with all the combined energies of the quiet and action-packed moments, was far too hard to walk away from. But it's one that I can relive in the memories again and again.











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