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Bringing the Setting into the Story (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
I always ask- “what consequence does that crumbling castle (or secluded victorian mansion in the wilderness, or that railing over the abyss) have on the story?
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In The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the first time we see one of the ghosts, he’s running his hand along the fortifications of a crumbling castle. Because of the architecture of the turrets, however, the narrator loses track of him.
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At one point in HP Lovecraft’s “Dreams of the Witch House” the narrator gets teleported to another dimension. He finds himself on a passageway overlooking a vast ancient city. He places his hands on an intricate railing to peer over and figure out what’s going on. As he does so, he’s surprised by a giant starfish. The protagonist jumps back and breaks off a piece of the railing (because it’s so flimsy and ornamental). After the starfish teleports him back to the real world, he realizes he still has the railing piece, which helps him realize it wasn’t a dream. (I know this story doesn’t sound very good. It’s not. But it illustrates the principle.)
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In J. LeFanu’s Carmilla, the narrator, Laura, once has a nightmare that her friendly guest, Carmilla, is being murdered. Laura rushes into Carmilla’s chamber to check on her, but finds it empty. Laura, her one parent, and the servants spend the entire night and part of the morning searching through the vast woodland mansion for any trace of Carmilla (with great effort). When they do find her (finally) the long interval of precarious absence makes Laura more attached to Carmilla.
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In “The Failure of David Berry” by Sarah Jewett, David, the protagonist, a shoemaker, used to work in a small shop in his front lawn. Economic difficulties force him to sell his shop and buy a more spacious, but less conveniently located, shop. The size and distance of the old shop require him to move about more, which, in his old age, wears David down. This contributes to his ultimate defeat.
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[FONT=&quot]Final example.The Willows by Algernon Blackwood. The narrator and “the Swede” find themselves stuck in a creepy swamp full of Willow trees. Sometimes the water rises and is a danger to them. Sometimes the water goes too fast and threatens to destroy their boat if they flee. The setting practically IS the story, it’s done so well. At one point, the narrator goes out to collect wood (which is very easy, due to the willows) and even this ease effects the story.


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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
We sort of knocked heads in the other thread, but I'm not sure each of us was really focused on the same thing. So I think our disagreement was at cross purposes.

Therefore, I'll make amends by stating here that your synopses in this post are beautifully written. Really. I enjoyed them. :)

In fact, I'd say that your synopses answer your question. They vividly set the atmosphere for each of the works you chose as examples.

"Setting the scene" does two important things. First, it gives the reader some portion of visualization of what the author is seeing in their head. Second, it sets a mood. Setting a mood is important to get the reader inside the protagonist's skin. I'd like my reader to feel fear, grief, joy (whatever) along with the MC. I want that because that's what I myself get from a well-written book.

The consequence is the reader living the story.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
For me, setting makes the story immersive and easy to believe and get lost in. It's crucial for the feel of the thing, even though it's entirely possible to change it out in many cases. For example, in "The Willows" (and top marks for both referencing one of my favourite short stories and for using my favourite font; I stared at the bottom of your post for a good few seconds thinking, I don't remember writing this.) - in "The Willows", the setting could be anywhere. The threat could come from anything; it could be boxes of toys, vehicles a la Trucks/Maximum Overdrive, anything. For me, setting is an artful thing. I read to escape, and while the fundaments of the story may not rely on it (eg: a man must hide from an unseen threat) who wants to read a story in a void populated by nothing but sensations and talky-talky?
 

Joker

Senior Member
Introducing set pieces often takes the form of a Chekhov's Gun. If a reporter is on the TV talking about the supervillain's brand new factory, geez, I wonder where the climatic battle will take place?
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Introducing set pieces often takes the form of a Chekhov's Gun. If a reporter is on the TV talking about the supervillain's brand new factory, geez, I wonder where the climatic battle will take place?

It can do, but I would also say that sometimes set pieces are nothing more than elaborate stages for stuff to happen on; Batman mentions the streets of Gotham because that's where they are. No foreshadowing, it just ... is.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
It can do, but I would also say that sometimes set pieces are nothing more than elaborate stages for stuff to happen on; Batman mentions the streets of Gotham because that's where they are. No foreshadowing, it just ... is.

It seems correlated with the specificity of the setting, right? 'Streets of [city]' is pretty abstract, but if Batman mentioned the Heinz Ketchup Factory on Fourth Street in a conversation I would imagine it would crop up again.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Introducing set pieces often takes the form of a Chekhov's Gun. If a reporter is on the TV talking about the supervillain's brand new factory, geez, I wonder where the climatic battle will take place?

Well, maybe the villain is so cruel, he forces his workers into hazardously small workspaces to save money. When he has to fight the hero in the factory, however, the villain loses, because the hero's fighting-style relies on close range attacks and the villain is a long-range fighter.

That's silly, of course, but I think it illustrates bringing the setting into the story (the setting being a cramped factory).
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
It seems correlated with the specificity of the setting, right? 'Streets of [city]' is pretty abstract, but if Batman mentioned the Heinz Ketchup Factory on Fourth Street in a conversation I would imagine it would crop up again.

Right, and even there, once in the ketchup factory, while occasional details like the massive size of the doors might not necessarily matter other than that it creates a cool mood-appropriate image, the appearance of some giant tomato squishing apparatus a little too close for comfort might be relevant in that that'll be where the arch-villain gets pulped. And at some base level we readers / viewers might secretly want exactly that. I suppose it's about choosing some things for atmosphere and having them there as-is, choosing others for dramatic function and portraying those as a little more shadowy or threatening or significant before chucking them all into the mix called "setting" or "scenery" and hoping it creates a coherent, compelling world. Chekhov's guns - and the walls to hang them on. It really is quite an art.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Right, and even there, once in the ketchup factory, while occasional details like the massive size of the doors might not necessarily matter other than that it creates a cool mood-appropriate image, the appearance of some giant tomato squishing apparatus a little too close for comfort might be relevant in that that'll be where the arch-villain gets pulped. And at some base level we readers / viewers might secretly want exactly that. I suppose it's about choosing some things for atmosphere and having them there as-is, choosing others for dramatic function and portraying those as a little more shadowy or threatening or significant before chucking them all into the mix called "setting" or "scenery" and hoping it creates a coherent, compelling world. Chekhov's guns - and the walls to hang them on. It really is quite an art.
This made me think of Terminator. The entire film seems to be set at night in a busy city. Without this background, the movie becomes bland. Without the setting of the factory with the giant smelting pot, we don't have an ending to the story. In the Lord of the Ring, there is no direct impact of the environment to the story, yet without the textures and feels the scenery provides, we don't feel the weight of the stones falling on people or the heat and sharp rocks from the volcano Frodo has to ascend to end the story.

Could you imagine Dune without the sand?
Could you imagine Interview with a vampire without the luxurious settings?
Could you imagine The Hunger Games without the shifting environment of the arena or the opulence of the city offset by the poverty of the outer cities?
 

Joker

Senior Member
Could you imagine Dune without the sand?

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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I always write the setting from the perspective of the POV character - as such it communicates their mood, and accentuates what they have to say.
 
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