Tag Archives: Henry Quense

Creating Stories: The Uses Of Setting

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

The story’s setting gives the readers a sense of time and location. This allows the readers to begin building images in their minds. The scene settings (which are subsets of the story setting) give additional image building information to the readers. But setting does much more than provide image building clues.
These uses are listed below.

1. The setting of the story should give an indication of the type of story the reader is about to encounter and this should be conveyed early to the reader, the earlier the better. Ideally, this should be the opening paragraph in a short story or the first few pages in a longer work. Is it a mystery set in Victorian London? Is it a story of survival set in war-torn Iraq? Are those vicious aliens on their way to Earth? The reader expects and has a right to know this stuff as early as possible. Don’t disappoint the readers. They may put the book down and never open it again.

2. There are two types of setting in a story. First, there is the overall story setting and second there is the settings used in scenes. The scene settings are subsets of the story setting. For instance, if the story setting is the Sahara Desert, then scenes can be set on sand dunes, at an oasis, in a sand storm or at a deserted fort.

3. Consider your characters acting out the story on a stage. Behind the characters, instead of the scenery typical with plays, there is nothing but white panels. The people who paid money to see the play would be dismayed by the lack of scenery, so too your readers will not like it if your story doesn’t have the appropriate setting to back up the characters.

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4. The setting used in your story has to be accurate. Don’t try to set a story in Manhattan’s Central Park if you haven’t been there. Likewise, the French Quarter in New Orleans is unique and shouldn’t be used by anyone who hasn’t walked the narrow streets.

5. On the other hand, if you develop an imaginary location, you can describe the area any way you want. If you use a backdrop of a historical period in the distant past, none of your readers will have been there, but you’ll still have to do research to get the setting accurate. You can’t use St. Paul’s Cathedral with its great dome in London right after William the Conquerer became king of England. St Paul’s wasn’t built yet.

6. An effect of establishing the setting is the placing of limitations on the author and the characters. For the author, a space ship means he shouldn’t have the characters using swords and landline phones since these artifacts are from bygone eras. Your characters are also limited. A character in the Old West can’t have knowledge of computers or smart phones, unless he’s a time-traveler.

As you can see, the setting can have a major impact on the reader, especially if it isn’t handled correctly.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

An Overview of Story Creation

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

Let’s assume you are a new (or inexperienced) fiction writer.  You probably know that creating a story requires a great deal of work and thinking.  You may not know that the work involved is the same whether you are creating a short story, a novel, a play, a script or even a memoir.

“How can that be?” you ask.  Simply because a novel, a script, a memoir, a play, a short story are all stories.  And no matter what type of story you have in mind, each requires a number of common elements such as characters, plots, scenes, settings, character arcs and more.

The only difference between these types of stories is the output.  What the manuscript looks like, in other words.  The manuscripts for a novel and for a play will look very different, but the process of creating those manuscripts is exactly the same.

Let’s put that issue aside and discuss a different topic.  Stories are the result of three separate creative processes:

  • Ideas
  • Story design
  • Storytelling techniques

Let’s discuss each one of these processes.

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1. Ideas

A mistake many rookie writers make is to start writing a story when they have only a single idea.  While a single idea can be the genesis of a story, no story can be written from a single idea.  A short story needs perhaps a dozen ideas while a novel requires many more than a hundred ideas.  The writer needs ideas about the character development, plot events, the setting, the character arc and the scene designs.  To gather all these ideas requires time and a great deal of thinking.  This is where a notebook (a real one or a digital one) comes in handy.  You never know when a great idea when pop into your head.

2. Story Design

What is story design?  It’s the process of developing all the story elements such as characters, plot events and so forth.  To put it another way, story design is the where the writer incorporates all these ideas into the story.

I’m a planner (as opposed to a panster) so I spend a lot of time on story design before I attempt to write the first draft.  In most cases the story design process for a novel consumes three months or more.  A major portion of this time is spent on determining the scenes I need to get the characters from the start of the story to the climactic scenes at the end.

3. Storytelling

No matter how great your ideas are and no matter wonderful your story design is, if you don’t have the storytelling skills to hold the reader’s attention, your story is doomed.  Storytelling involves the use of a number of techniques that include point-of-view, foreshadowing, show-don’t-tell, stimulus & reaction, dialog vs exposition among other topics.

One storytelling skill that isn’t discussed much in writing books is the development of a writing voice.  Writers can’t tell a story by using their speaking voice: they have to develop a separate and distinct writing voice.  The reason for this is that our speaking voice tends to be boring.  Very boring.  Want proof?  Eavesdrop on the conversation between a few strangers.  I’ll bet you it won’t hold your interest for long.  So imagine trying to read a story written in a speaking voice.

I believe that once a writer understands the creative processes required to produce a story, the work can go forward more easily and more smoothly.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017