This week I'm going to talk about setting –
I'm going to talk about how the details of setting enhance a work of fiction.
They add texture.
They provide a context that helps to define character. Think Atticus Finch.
Think Huckleberry Finn. Setting also provides a rich source of details that can be used in endless ways, as symbol, metaphor, objective correlative, to echo a theme or merely to add interest, to help your story find the particular instead of the general.
We'll look at some examples of how various writers have used setting for different purposes in their work.
Then I'm going to interview Fran Cannon Slayton about her debut novel, When the Whistle Blows.
It was inspired by stories she heard from her father about growing up in a rural railroading town in West Virginia. We'll talk to Fran about place too and about how she fashioned a wonderful coming-of-age novel out of imagination and family history and lore.
Which of your favorite works of fiction reflect a strong sense of place Take a look at the opening paragraphs from some recent works of fiction:
Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all.
Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer
decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot.
The red words painted on the trailer cause quite a buzz around
town, and before an hour is up, half of Antler is standing in line
with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the
From When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt
When summer comes to the North Woods, time slows down. And
some days it stops altogether. The sky, gray and lowering for much
of the year, becomes an ocean of blue, so vast and brilliant you can't
help but stop what you're doing – pinning wet sheets to the line maybe
or shucking a bushel of corn on the back steps – to stare up at it.
Locusts whir in the birches, coaxing you out of the sun and under the
boughs, and the heat stills the air, heavy and sweet with the scent of
From A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large
lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years
ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.
There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled
and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there.
During the summer the daytime temperature hovers around
ninety-five degrees in the shade -- if you can find any shade.
There's not much shade in a big dry lake.
From Holes by Louis Sachar
Tomorrow we'll look at how writers use setting to ehance their "fictional dream" as John Gardner called it. In The Art of Fiction Gardner writes that, "vivid detail is the life blood of fiction." Obviously, details may come from sources other than setting. My point is that setting offers a bounty of opportunity for selecting detail. That's our subject for the week.