I’ve read books where settings were so carefully constructed they became characters in the story. The settings were not merely backdrops, but integral to the novel. Three authors come to mind: Jan Karon, J.R.R. Tolkein, and C.S. Lewis. Mitford, Middle-earth, and Narnia. For these authors, setting is about the right place for the right time.
I want that for my writing. I’m a visual learner and discovered that if I personify the key elements of a novel, I can create more effective stories. When I think about a great setting, I picture a fine dining experience. Specifically, I like to view my novel’s setting as the waiter who makes that dining experience memorable.
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Make readers feel at home
When constructing your settings, think back to the restaurant analogy. The first thing you want to do for your readers is let them know where they are and welcome them with great attention to detail. The Main Street Grille with its green awning in At Home in Mitford is Karon’s perfect piece that allows her characters (and readers) to feel at home.
Stay behind the scenes
For me, waiters who earn larger tips aren’t overbearing—but neither are they hard to find when needed. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings is replete with massive settings like Mount Doom in Mordor or the Mines of Moria. These settings provide the perfect backdrop to serve the characters and their actions without taking the focus away from them.
Invite the reader back
When the meal is finished, a waiter’s pleasant demeanor and well wishes seal the deal.
From the lamppost Lewis set just beyond the wardrobe, to the castle of Cair Paravel, Narnia is expertly constructed to entice readers to return to its magical wonderland.
Now it’s your turn
Go back to your manuscript and take each of your settings through the “waiter” approach. If you do, your readers will know exactly where they are when navigating the map of your novel—and they’ll want to return again and again.
Matthew Koceich completed the Guild’s Apprentice, Journeyman, and Craftsman courses. He and his wife, Cindi, have four children and live in Mansfield, Texas. Matt’s first novel, The Sending, is available at www.marcherlordpress.com