Creative Use of Setting in Fiction
The setting of a story is a highly useful tool for an author. It not only helps set the stage for location and time, but also the mood and the genre. When writing fiction, an author has complete control over all variables involved in the setting, with few rules to follow. This is the main difference between a fictional setting and a non-fictional setting, in which an author is striving to recreate reality in a given period of time. In my metaphysical novel, MONAD 12.21.12 The Awakening of Stella Steinar, I used the setting strategically in a few different ways. Here, I’ll discuss the most obvious.
The main storyline is set in present day United States, primarily two locations; Minnesota and California. Stella Steinar, my main character, is an adopted teen raised in northern Minnesota. I have first-hand experience with this location because like my main character, I grew up there. I suppose that makes me an expert! Here’s a short excerpt related to the setting:
“Despite its frigid, unbearable winters, Minnesota is humid and lush in the summer. But fall is the best season of all. Yes, I decided to myself, fall is the one thing I will miss. The air is cool and crisp while the sun is still shining brightly. The moon beckons through the inky cloudless night. The water in the lake retains a small reserve of heat and in the early morning you can see the steam rising off of it. Everything outside seems sleepy and peaceful, preparing for the long hibernation. The scent of the first decaying leaves on the ground is eerily predictable and comforting, while the vibrant golds and deep reds scatter about in perfect abstraction. I’m pretty sure California will be nothing like this.” (Stella)
My goal with that description was not only to appeal to the sense of sight, but temperature, scent, and mood.
In the first chapter, another main character is introduced; Stella’s twin whom she’s never met, Aron Erickson. Aron has spent her life of 18 years in California, a stark contrast to what Stella knows as ‘home’. Here are a few samples for this setting, with some parts removed between sentences:
“I was lounging in the backyard garden, swinging in the hammock, listening to Cloud Cult through my earphones, when my dad jumped into view and frightened me half to death.”…”He brushed his sandy blond bangs from his eyes and pulled up a teak chair in front of me. He straddled it backwards, resting his forearms on the back.”…”I would miss the security of this serene multi-level backyard rock garden in this little two-story row house, perched on the side of a hill in our eclectic, San Fran neighborhood.”…”The sound of his flip-flops slapping his feet faded into the house and my gaze fell onto the statue in the shade at the fence—Shiva, the cosmic dancer who presides over the constant destruction and recreation of the universe.” (Aron)
Again, I have not only appealed visually, but have incorporated auditory and mood details, invoking a laid back feeling. Having lived a few years on the west coast and having spent time in San Francisco and other parts of California on several occasions, it was easy for me to describe Aron’s environment. In the story I used the difference in settings to shape the opposing personalities of the twins. But this isn’t the only contrast in which I put the use of setting to work.
Although this book is set in present day USA, Stella is plagued with visions and dreams, remnants of memories of a past life that is set in 16th century Scandinavia. By providing vivid details of Stella’s account of these experiences, I was able to clearly distinguish a boundary between the main story and the subplot that this past life was leading to, essentially telling two stories at the same time. The setting provides a clear definition between the two “worlds”. Here is an excerpt for an example of this, again with some editing between sentences to keep it brief:
“Sitting in a big round room with stone walls and a domed ceiling made of ribbed mechanical-looking planks, Stella noticed the oversized wooden shutters were open, allowing the fresh sea air to flow into the room. It was dark. Night. She heard waves lapping at rocks far below. Seated at a rustic wooden table, a dozen dripping candles illuminated the room. Papers were scattered about, with writing in a language she couldn’t read.”…”He pulled out the cork and poured the shimmering liquid onto the table. She had never seen anything like it. The way it moved—it was like metal had married water and made a beautiful little baby. ‘Is it silver?’ she asked.”…”His voice faded into the background as she brought her face closer to the stuff. She reached her hand toward it and touched it with one finger, noticing how it bounced and rolled mysteriously on the rough wooden surface. ‘It has been named Mercury,’ she heard him say just before losing the dream to the white stillness of sleep.”
The goal of my vision/dream setting descriptions was to create an ethereal, magical feeling for the reader, as if they’d been transported back through time. This task was much different than merely describing a place I’d already been, like Minnesota or California. I researched locations typical of this time period with a specific idea in mind, but allowed my imagination to conjure this world.
I’m currently writing the sequel to this first book in the Stella Steinar series, hoping to be in the editing stage by June 2012, and I’m having just as much fun with this one as I did with the first. If you like multi or cross genre fiction including metaphysical, paranormal, new age, visionary, mystery, thriller, romance…the list goes on…give my book a try! It is appropriate for both young adult and adult readers. It’s available in paperback and ebook. You can sample the entire first chapter of my book using Amazon’s ‘look inside’ tool here:
You can find me and other links to my Goodreads profile, Twitter, my blog and more at my website:
Many thanks to Carrie Nyman for inviting me to write this guest post for her blog!