A young couple kisses under a full moon nestled on the stone bench before the three hundred year old Italian statue. The summer breeze brings with it the crisp air from the Mediterranean and the lovers can taste a hint of salt on each other’s sweet lips.
In the above we know absolutely nothing about the young couple and yet the image brings a sense of love and romance. This is the power of setting.
The writer should treat the setting of a story like a character. They must describe the environment in context to the story, decide how it will interact with the other characters and give it a purpose. Overlooking the environment is one of those errors that can cause a story to feel flat without ever knowing why. There are many ways to use environment depending on the genre and the scene.
Once in an erotic story I used an office setting to contrast the sexual nature of the plot. The idea was the workplace made the feelings and behaviors of the characters more taboo. Another contrast example; in a science fiction setting I wrote about two survivors stranded on a harsh world and their love for each other was counter to the racial differences, social imbalances, and life threatening circumstances. Their lovemaking wasn’t a result of a grand romantic locale, but rather an act of overcoming a terrible environment.
Currently I’m trying my hand at a more traditional romantic approach and I want the setting to serve as an enabling factor. The characters and the readers should both come to the same conclusion; that for the characters involved there couldn’t be a more appropriate place for them to consummate their relationship.
To this end I’m calling upon my personal experience in the Mojave Desert. The vast sky and rocky beauty of the American West is breath taking. Two people under the blanket of night out there can loose themselves and forget that anyone else even exists! The spiritual affirmation a person receives looking up at that mass of stars, while with the one they love, has been an unmatched experience for me. The flipside of that coin is that the desert is dangerous. This will serve for the adventurous portions of my story and the isolation will enhance the peril.
Meanwhile, I invite everyone to look over your favorite books and see how the author used setting to tell their story. How did the where affect the mood or influence the behavior? Think about that and introduce more of it into your writing and you won’t regret it.
Until next time— happy writing.
Michael Matthews Bingamon