06 May

3 Ways to Make Setting Come to Life

Posted in Teen Lit, Writing, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We’ve also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.
Today’s Special: Larger-Than-Life Settings

In some books, setting is just a backdrop for the story but in others the setting becomes almost as important as the main characters.  What is it about these settings that makes them seem larger-than-life?  And how do we as writers create settings like this?

3 Ways to Make Setting Come to Life

1.  Make setting central to the story.  Settings that come to life are often a central component to the story.  One book that is a perfect example is Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan, a story could only be told in New York City.  When the setting becomes a central component to the story, it often takes on a life of its own.  In Love is the Higher Law, the powerful scene where Claire relights the candles could only happen in Union Square, in New York City.  That image of a teenage girl in Union Square, relighting candles that have gone out in the rain, still stays with me. 

2.  Drop your reader in the middle of the world.  In Sarah Beth Durst’s Ice, the story opens in the middle of the Arctic pack ice, with Cassie chasing a polar bear.  We feel the ice on her face mask.  We see the crystals swirling in the air.  Right away we are engulfed by the world of the story. 

3. Details, details, details.  Take time to build details into your story and the setting will come to life.  in Love is the Higher Law we have that moving scene where Clair is looking for the railings near Ground Zero.  That detail of those railings makes the setting come to life.  Even for someone who doesn’t live in New York City, they can identify with some of the emotion that Claire feels when she realizes those railings survived.  Here is that moment:

“As I turn to walk south, I am sure in my bones that the railings won’t be there.  As I walk closer, I think it might be possible that they’ve survived.  As I turn and see the Financial Center’s plaza, hurt but still standing, I think it’s very possible, but still I can’t believe it.  Nearer and nearer.  I see part of it is blocked off.  Then I can see it.  Right there.  I am so happy and so sad at the same time.  I am exuberant and despondent and utterly, completely beside myself.  There they are,  And I know it’s ridiculous–with so many dead, so much destroyed that I can feel so much joy over a series of metal letters affixed to a metal railing.  Life ends, and life goes on.  Words disappear and words remain.”

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: Believe in your setting.  Your reader will believe in you.

What do you think?  Are there other ways to make setting come to life?  What’s your favorite larger-than-life setting?

Want to hear more about larger-than-life settings?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her thoughts on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us what you think!


Comments on this post

  1. Lisa Gail Green says:

    Love it! Great tips. I always like learning more about incorporating setting into my manuscripts.

    1. Peace, Lena and Happiness says:

      Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl. Setting is the best I've read.

      1. Najela says:

        I'd have to HP has a great setting. Every kids wants to imagine they are a wizard. I also like fantasy stories where the story has to be in that particular world. A few that come to mind are Tamora Pierce's books and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series. I feel like setting is heavily integral to the plot.

        1. Bee says:

          Very interesting post and great tips. I think the setting of the Haworth moors are perfectly done in Wuthering Heights. No one does setting better than Bronte.

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