In all the books ever written about storytelling I think the subject of setting probably appears fairly early in most texts. It’s such an essential building block it’s hard to imagine thinking about a story without already having a setting in mind.
When Rust Hills finally gets around to the subject of setting there are only a few chapters remaining in his book. The difference, I think, is that Hills isn’t trying to coach writers through the process of generating and developing a specific idea. Rather, he’s trying to explain how the various aspects of fiction, including setting, fit together and function in all stories. It’s a grasp of craft I think many writers remain oblivious to as they get each new story underway.
As with all other aspects of a successful story, the setting may be basic to the original conception or may be the result of conscious and deliberate choice in the course of composition.
This statement is so obvious as to seem almost meaningless, yet it forces the issue: making a choice about setting is making a choice. It may be an instinctive choice, it may be a deliberate choice, but it is not without implication. No matter how you arrive at the setting for a story the test is whether that setting and story become more than the sum of the parts.
In my own writing life I’ve imagined everything from an individual scene to an entire epic simply because of the impact a particular place had on me, and I always enjoy such moments of inspiration. But absent a story that truly demands that location I know I have nothing special. Because it is almost impossible to write authentically and in an integrated way about places one has encountered only briefly, the choice of setting should involve more than postcard interest or the possibility of exotic complications.
If you’re fortunate enough to conceive an entire story from a particular setting, or to have a specific setting accompany a new story idea, there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to question that original conception. I know how exciting and affirming it can be to have a fully formed story drop into the mind, but I also know that such gifts often lose their luster upon implementation. What seems at first blush to be essential can turn out to be full of holes on closer inspection — and good craft always demands closer inspection. [ Read more ]