Now think of each word in a story. These details and places add a fullness to the characters and the plot of a story. It’s calling Setting.
The setting brings out the mood and atmosphere of your story. Donald Maass in his book Writing the Breakout Novel calls it “your secret ingredient.” It’s the added details that you weave through the pages that shows the reader how the main character feels about the story.
Have you ever read a book and got the sense that you’ve ‘been’ in this same place before? Like the school cafeteria, the classroom or the character’s bedroom. Chances are, you’ve read at least 20 books with these settings in place.
These settings are a part of the lives of our characters. We need them. But take that secret ingredient and sprinkle it on top and it’s got spark.
Examples: 1. Bedroom- decorate it to reflect the character’s passions- Star Wars if she/he has been dreaming of space, packed with animals if they’re an animal lover. 2. Cafeteria- what makes the school’s cafeteria different? Does it have an outside area? Are there cafeteria guards (yeah, those would be the teachers) patrolling the perimeter? Or do your characters even have to eat in the cafeteria? They could have special privileges or eat in the library (like Freeze Frame). 3. Are your characters inside a lot? Toss them out the door. 4. Does your character have a spot that’s their very own? If not, get them one. (be creative) 5. If your character always goes to Burger King, take him to the fish fry down the corner.
Now, let’s take this a step further. (And this really works best when you’re brainstorming for a new book.) 1. Keep a running log of settings as you read books. Are there certain places that come up over and over again? Avoid those in your own stories. 2. Scan the list and think about settings that aren’t there. Are you seeing a lot of mountain settings? Go to the beach. Are the beaches always warm and sunny? Then go to a cold, rock shoreline. 3. Next time you go on a trip, study your surroundings. Notice the differences. The details. What does it smell like? What food would you eat there? What sights would you see there and not anywhere else. Those are the secret ingredients that will give your story that extra spice. 4. But most importantly, think about your characters. The setting should reflect the mood, emotions and issues that your characters are dealing with.