In school we were taught setting matters.
Where your story takes place ends up its own character. Sort of.
Yet it’s so easy to focus on our characters and the tragic things we’re putting them through and forget to give enough attention to the where.
Take a second to think about the most significant moment in your life.
It could be the event that brought you the most joy, the most pain, the most redemption. Anything.
Notice how you don’t just remember the thing that happened. You also remember where it happened.
The room where it happened — you never forget that.
Because that location is part of your life’s story. The same way every location in your book’s plot should also be as memorable as the characters who interact within it.
If you can take a scene in your story, transplant it into a completely different setting, and nothing changes about the significance of that scene, your story’s setting needs work.
Some might argue that location isn’t always a significant plot point. I suppose I can’t necessarily argue with that. But if you really want your readers to feel like they’re right there with your characters, you’re going to have to make your story’s environment pretty important. And as important as “realism” might be, this is still a story. Things are allowed to have seemingly obnoxious significance if you want them to.
If you want your main character to break up with her boyfriend over the phone in her bedroom instead of the kitchen, because she is a private, closed-off person, and you need that location to represent her growing isolation from the outside world, DO THAT.
Where your story’s scenes take place matters. Your characters will remember the significance of the locations events in their stories take place. So should your reader. You can’t forget to take the time to paint a clear picture of that setting for your readers to settle into as your story progresses. Otherwise, there’s an unwanted element of disconnect your readers WILL feel from your prose — even if you don’t.
This is really something I want to work on improving in my writing during NaNo this year. I thought maybe you needed a quick reminder, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.