Creating A Memorable Setting For Your Story to Thrive
BY DARLENE P. CAMPOS
In every story, the setting is a background, but with the right set of details, your setting can become memorable. Here are three ways to make sure you’ve got a strong setting for your story to thrive.
1. Sensory details
Without sensory details, the reader won’t be able to feel the setting. What does your setting look like? Is it a big city with lots of traffic? Is it a rural town with tumbleweeds? What’s a significant smell or sight the place has?
Think of yourself as a tour guide. Pretend you’ve got a client who wants to take a vacation to the setting of your story. You must convince them why this place is important to visit. Are there landmarks? What can they do for fun? Where can they grab a bite for dinner? Once you can answer these questions, then congratulations – you’ve got a solid setting in the works.
Rey Carlos Island in Heaven Isn’t Me is based off Corpus Christi, Texas. I went to Corpus Christi for my honeymoon and all the spots Elysian and her friends visit are based on real spots I visited, especially the USS Defiance. This ship was crafted from the USS Lexington. When I took a tour of this ship, I knew I had to bring it into my next novel.
If you’re having trouble coming up with sensory details for your setting, pay a visit to your favorite store. Take a notebook and describe everything you see like the customers, the color of the floor, the style of the ceiling, the layout, and the uniforms of the employees. Start small, then work towards a larger setting.
2. Where does your character live?
Once you have your grand setting fashioned, it’s time to narrow in just a little. The reader needs to know where your character lives within the grand setting. Whether your character lives in a mansion or in a one-bedroom apartment, this must be described to better present the character’s world.
Imagine your character wants to sell their home and you’re the real estate agent. Picture yourself walking through the home and when you’re got a clear, mental visual, jot down everything you can see inside. Most of all, make sure the home matches your character. If your character is a mechanic, there might be loose tools in the garage. If your character is a teacher, there might be stacks of papers to grade on the kitchen table. If your character is a child, there might be toys on the floor, a ripped backpack on a hook, or a video-game system with tangled cables.
Take a moment to write about your own home. Describe the front door, the flooring, the paint on the walls, etc. Practice only makes your writing stronger.
3. Where does your character go to hang out?
Unless your character is a proud hermit, your character is going to leave home at some point in the story. This is when you bring up their second, third, and fourth homes. These places can be familiar like a school or a park or they can be more complex like a strange place your character visits for vacation.
In Behind Mount Rushmore, Nimo and his best friend, John David, ride their bikes everywhere, but their usual stop, all the way from their childhood years to their college days, is Big Bat’s. They always eat a hot dog or burger there and it’s their hangout spot, no matter what. When they’re happy, they go to Big Bat’s. When they’re sad, they go to Big Bat’s. Give your character that hangout spot where they feel safe.
Remember: the hangout spots need to match your character! If your character hates seafood, it wouldn’t make sense for them to constantly visit a seafood café. Ask yourself this: if I were my character and I wanted to meet up with a friend, where would I go? Where do you go to hang out? Aside from your home, where’s your place of comfort? Next time you visit this place, take a few minutes and write about it.
I hope these tips were helpful. Feel free to explore new areas and write about them as well.
Darlene P. Campos earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. She also graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in English-Creative Writing and a minor in medicine and Social Studies. She is from Guayaquil, Ecuador, but currently lives in Houston, TX with her husband David and an adorable pet rabbit named Jake. Her website is www.darlenepcampos.com. You can support her work here.