Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Elizabeth George: Setting in Action

In Write Away, Elizabeth George discusses how she uses setting in her fiction.


For George, the setting is like a living thing. It can tell a lot about a character, and it can evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. The purpose of setting includes creating atmosphere and mood. It can also contrast with what’s going on in the scene, such as when something bad happens in a peaceful setting. The writer should treat the landscape with the same importance as she treats the character.


George likes to write about places she knows, often going to where a story will take place. She notes everything from the flora and fauna to the buildings to the type of sky. She takes photos as well. However, if she needs to, she creates a setting, usually an amalgamation of different places she already knows. She wants the setting to be as real as possible for the reader. The greater reality it has for the writer, the greater reality it will have for the reader.


There’s also the setting that’s the environment the character inhabits—his home, bedroom, automobile, and so forth. These things reveal a lot about a character without the need for extensive explanation.



Each character has an outer landscape—his looks, skin, hair, eyes, posture, voice, the clothes he wears, and so forth.


Each character has an inner landscape—his thoughts, beliefs, objectives, interior monologue, and so on.


Effective settings require concrete details. Details are an excellent way of showing what a setting is like.


Perhaps the most effective kind of description is that which blends in with the narrative without interrupting the flow of the story.
Elizabeth George wants her fiction to be as real for the reader as possible. The setting in all its forms, described in telling details, helps achieve that goal. She wants to own her setting and, if she does own it, it helps the reader to own it, too.
How much importance does setting have in your fiction?
How do you approach describing setting in your writing?
How much effort do you put into using concrete details in your setting?
How much effort do you put into using details to reveal facts about a character?


Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This is a nice post, Richard. Elizabeth George does achieve what she advises in your examples above. (I was a George fan for awhile, but then her stories got too dark for me. But she's a brilliant writer.) I agree that settings well wrought plunge a reader into the story and its world and give the character multi-dimensions, so I do a lot of research for my settings, both historical and contemporary, and I do try to visit contemporary settings as well. (Thank goodness, though, for that little walk-about Google man that can explore streets in far away places. :-)

Richard Hughes said...

Elizabeth, what would we do without Google? I guess we'd read more guide books. The way you travel the world, you must have collected a lot of research.

Tanya Lynne Reimer said...

I always struggle with setting. This is an excellent summary of things I should be looking for! I do always go back in a rewrite and layer setting in, in such ways. I love the trick of showing a setting early and revisiting it again after the character has growth so we can see how changed he really is.

Richard Hughes said...

I revise settings, too, Tanya. I have to; my first drafts usually leave a lot to be desired.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Richard and Elizabeth, I like spending time on creating the setting, describing the fauna and flora in detail, maybe the background sounds, I also like to use the setting to highlight some important part of the story.

Thanks Elizabeth for sharing this wonderful post.

Rachna Chhabria
Co-host IWSG
Rachna's Scriptorium

Richard Hughes said...

Hi, Rachna, being from India, you probably have some beautiful settings to draw on.

Denise Covey said...

I love Elizabeth George's advice re setting. Hers are like characters in the novel, which is just the way I like it.

Richard Hughes said...

Thanks, Denise

Emily R. King said...

I love the idea that each character has an outer landscape. What a fun visual to remember when describing them!

Richard Hughes said...

Thanks, Emily. George does have an interesting take on setting.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

As a reader...I will usually only read a book if I like the setting. I am weird.

Richard Hughes said...

Keith, thanks. Well done settings definitely make a story better.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Very insightful. Great post! Settings are great tools for writers when used correctly.

Richard Hughes said...

J Lenni, I agree. Settings can be a strong player in a story.

Elise Fallson said...

Setting is definitely important. That being said, I'm not a big fan of heavy descriptions in writing and because of that, I tend to struggle with settings. As a reader I'm more plot driven, and it effects my writing. I really need to work on my settings....It's a hard to find the perfect balance.

Richard Hughes said...

Elise, I agree. We need to find a balance.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Richard. Elizabeth George is great!

I've nominated you for an award on my blog:

I hope you can accept.

Denise :-)

J Lenni Dorner said...

Hope you're doing okay. Looks like you haven't blogged in a while.