Writing Tips & Tools

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lesson 29: Setting

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section THREE: Setting.

How many settings are there in your current novel? From how many POV's is each of them seen? Each outlook on each location is an opportunity to enrich your story. In your novel, how many of those opportunities are you taking?

Our perception of place changes as we change. The difference between a town as remembered from long ago and how it seems now is the difference between who we once were and who we are now. The same is true of characters in fiction. Take them anywhere and show us how they feel abut the place, or how that place makes them feel, and you will reveal to us volumes about their inner frozenness, or growth.

Step 1: Pick a high moment, turning point, or climax involving your protagonist. Where is it set?

Step 2: Write a paragraph describing how this place makes your character feel, or how your protagonist feels about this place.

Step 3: Move forward one week in time or backwards one week in time. Return your protagonist to this place. Write a paragraph describing how it makes your character feel now.

Note: There is something powerful about returning to to a place of significant action and discovering how it feels different. Pinning that down is using the psychology of place, that is, employing the perception of place as another way to measure change.

Follow-up: What is the setting that recurs most often in your novel? From whose point of view is it most often seen. Count the number of times that character is in that place. Write a list, and for each return to that place find one way in which that character's perception of it changes.

Conclusion: Bringing to life the world of your novel is more than just describing it using the five senses. A place lives most vividly through the eyes of characters. Delineate those evolving perceptions, and the world of your novel will feel rich, dynamic, and alive!


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