Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saturated Settings

In any piece, a setting can infuse a narrative with a distinct tone, a mood that flows throughout or even permits the characters to demonstrate traits that would otherwise remain hidden from the piece. Unfortunately many settings have been utilized to the point of exhaustion from decrepit abandoned buildings to the city coffee shop.

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Each distinct setting in a narrative can infuse a particular tone into the piece because of the preconceptions that every individual has regarding those settings. Most settings are not chosen based on the tone that they will set but because they will be relatable for the majority of the target audience but in choosing this route it creates and sustains the cliche settings.

Some of the most over saturated settings include; urban sprawl, office building, coffee shops, the sea-side town, the sewers, caves, hidden rural towns, decrepit abandoned buildings, schools, forests and swamps. Each of these settings carries a certain connotation and infuses a specific tone into the narrative.

In the Urban Sprawl setting(Cities or Suburbia) this is the most common setting for a narrative because the sheer number of audience members that live in a similar setting. The Urban Sprawl infuses believability and a tone of pressure, stress, to the piece. The coffee shop, the office building, the parking garage, the sewers and apartment/loft are frequently exploited in this setting. While there are a multitude of variants of these settings, the sense of normalcy that these settings evoke makes the narrative more believable but also less distinguishable from other works in a similar setting.

In the Rural setting, whether it's the hidden town on the sea or in the woods the setting adds a sense of peace and a tone of mystery. While there are fewer individuals of the audience that actually live in these settings the preconceptions created by these are far stronger. The audience will constantly be 'en garde' for the subtle hints of something else underneath the surface of the town.

The Hidden settings like swamps, forests, caves and abandoned buildings carry a tone of foreboding and sadness. Unfortunately these settings have been used by horror stories so frequently that the audience is just waiting for something to 'jump out' at them from the piece. Since far fewer individuals have actually experienced these settings, the layers of development and detail will be much greater to convey the same levels of tone that a familiar setting can do far quicker.

As a setting is utilized to build a relatable connection between the audience and the characters this also applies all of the knowledge and experiences that an individual has regarding a setting. When tapping into the viewer's knowledge it is important to note that not only will it be more readily believable but also that they may have more knowledge about the setting than the writer. It becomes a delicate balance of tone and believability. Drawing on popular settings can make a piece more believable but also less distinct.

What settings to you find that you draw upon the most and for what tone?


Michele Shaw said...

I never use a setting I haven't actually lived in or visited. (Obviously, I don't write fantasy;)) For me, it's the best way to draw the setting realistically, though I may change things around, add and subtract. I picture myself walking the street, standing in the room, and get the basics down. Then I add what will fit that is specific to my story.

PW.Creighton said...

Michele, that's a great practice and an exceptional way to make the world believable but I think the interesting part is, will it match the tone? While it is important to know the setting inside and out, sometime a story is stronger because the setting is a specific one. Also makes for a great excuse to visit the setting you've chosen. Preconceptions carry a lot of weight.

Natalie C. Markey said...

I do write fantasy but love to incorporate some urban fantasy elements. In my YA (currently on submission) I use the city of Galveston, TX. That way any reader who has lived/visited a coastal city can relate instantly to the setting. That way when I move to a fantasy setting, they still had that true, relateable experience.

I also like to use setting to make the story less predictable. I hate bad things happening during a thunderstorm. Bad things can happen in bright, beautiful settings and I feel that can really add to the suspense in a story.

PW.Creighton said...

Natalie, it is very strong to utilize recognizable settings and quite often writers use the weather to help set the mood. I rather prefer your take on the weather too, sunny days can be bad too. ;-)

Theresa Meyers said...

If setting is actually a character within the story (take Manderly in the book Rebecca) then really they enhance the story, no matter what setting is used. While I prefer to use settings I've actually visited, since I write some paranormal and urban fantasy as well as steampunk, it's important for me to be able to capture the essence of those places and give the reader the feeling of being there, not just seeing it. If I can do that, then I've done my job.

Jacqvern said...

Hi Philip,

What a subject you chose :D. It's a very long discussion with many aspects. I think I'll make it a blog post this week and refer to your post, with your permission. :)

Very interesting.

PW.Creighton said...

Theresa, that's a very solid outlook. It's also very difficult in fantasy. I think the challenge comes from exploring cliched settings and using them to influence the tone of the story.

Jacqvern, glad I could inspire. :-)

frigngruvn said...

I do use settings I know, and also apply some research if I need more details. I like the idea of using an unusual setting for a book that the reader doesnt expect. Am thinking about that for my new book! - Donna Galanti

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