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The Writer's Cafe

Background: Setting - Place

If he wants effective detail, the writer must have these taboos in mind:

  • irrelevant or picture-post card detail
  • excess
  • visual, ethnic, linguistic, or other cliche's
  • derivative, second hand material
  • In trying to refine his perception to just the details that are both deeply characteristic of a place and relevant to the action of his story, he must know first precisely what role the surroundings are to carry out.

    Five primary functions for place or setting:

  • Place as character
  • Place as destiny
  • Place as narrative element
  • Place as period
  • Place as backdrop
  • "Place as character" is an unsatisfactory phrase and, as the reader will understand, it does not mean that a locale should be given human traits or personality. "Place as character" means that the setting affects the people in a story as much as they affect one another. They are subject to its weather, hazards, beguilments, confinements and temperature. What results is a kind of interaction between place and person.

    Place as character is closely linked with place as destiny. The human characters are condemned by their environment to certain fates. Sometimes place offers a benign or, at least, tolerable destiny, but authors are usually attracted to the greater drama of people in revolt against their ciramambience or defeated by it. Contented people, unfortunately, tend to be somewhat boring.

    When description is used to establish the period of a story, the writer may find that a straightforward approach is not only the simplest but most effective.

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