Sunday, June 12, 2011

Setting with Feeling

A Guest Post By Dmytry Karpov

Things to Remember

A setting isn’t a place, it’s a character. Too often, writers describe what a location looks like and move on. The prose, if beautiful, may be memorable, but the setting will be flat and forgettable. Even action scenes deserve arenas, so locations deserve word count. With these three tips, make your settings three dimensional.

Add Drama

Atmosphere: You’ve probably learned about it in English class. (And no, it’s not the thing that floats around our planet. Homonyms, people!) It is the feel of a setting. It is the sum of sensations it creates. In order for a setting to have atmosphere, its descriptions must hint at mood.

If the room is dark, the walls peeling and covered in webs, feelings of decay and darkness are achieved. Add a little blood, and an atmosphere of horror is created. Mention a sunny day, and sensations of warmth arise.

Every detail helps create or destroy atmosphere. If present, it will pair your setting with an emotion, be memorable, and enhance your scene. It will draw sensations from your characters and readers. Atmosphere gives setting emotion. History gives it depth.

Dig Deeper

History: (Not the tedious heavy textbook kind.) Every location, unless absolutely and unrealistically untouched, has it. There are coffee stains on the table within a family’s home. There are pictures on the wall within a child’s room. Castles are built upon old ruins, marked in a language long forgotten. Space ships are covered in posters put up by the crew.

Such details make setting a character. They create interest, mystery. They allow the setting to change and grow. Not only can it have feelings and depth, it can affect people.

Don't Forget Action

Life: Most settings are filled with it. Drunks cheer at a bar. A spider crawls across the floor. Engines roar. Children laugh. A bird sits on the windowsill. A mouse sits in the corner. In fantasy, trees and rock may come alive. In Science-Fiction, computers may beep and talk.

Settings can move. They can change. They can affect characters and demand responses.

Don’t make your setting a place.

Make your setting a character. Make it important.


Dmytry Karpov is an Adult Fantasy writer tired of cliches and girl-meets-vampire plots. His first book, The Nemean Lion, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where both zombies and fairytale creatures exist. And Ann, a fierce girl trying to return home, sets out on a quest with a leprechaun. Of course, she would have preferred a vampire, but not everyone's that lucky.

Dmytry is also the editor of numerous published short stories. Find him on Twitter and Facebook


  1. Dymytry, I've read a few of your tip posts before, and I think you always hit the nail on the head with your advice. Well done and taken to heart. I love that you say, "Make your setting a character." Nicely done. :)

  2. Thanks Jeannie.

    This is still a technique I have to consciously focus on.I love it when tips become second nature, and great writing flows naturally.

  3. Awesome post. I'm now seeing the settings in my book in a whole new light! You are, as usual, brilliant.

  4. This is a fantastic post. Definitely getting tweeted. Just realised I'm not connecting with the setting in my current chapter, the one I'm stuck on. I think I'm not connecting with the scene as a whole. Thanks for this!!

  5. I love this! Perfect advice for the project I'm working on--a novel set in a virtual reality video game. Truly, my setting is a "character." I just didn't get it till I read this.

  6. Thanks Kimberly, Anne-Mhairi, and Scott.

    I love it when a writing tip can be directly applied to someone's work in progress.

  7. Wow! Love this post. I couldn't put my finger on why some scenes were beautiful and emotional and others flat-lined across the page. That's exactly the difference. The missing link that killed my mood! :-)

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Thanks Candie Leigh.

    It's amazing when one technique can make such a difference. That's why I think you can never know too much about writing.

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