Many years ago, when I first started learning the craft of writing, someone said to me, ‘treat your setting like you would any other character in your story’. At first, I didn’t exactly understand what was meant by that. After all, is setting really that important? Do we really need to give it as much attention as our hero and heroine’s character? Yes, and yes. We do.
You see, setting isn’t just about where the story takes place. Setting, and its characteristics, can really add dimension to your scene and story as a whole. What do I mean by this?
Well, take a forest for example. Yes, it’s full of trees, and you could easily leave it at that. But, a forest is so much more than that. Let’s use the five scenes to create a character for our forest.
Think about what you would see in a forest. There are wild mushrooms, sap crusts, spider webs, and thick underbrush, to name but a few.
What would you hear in a forest? Squawking birds, groaning trees, animal screeches, or the scrabbling of lizards on tree bark. Think back to the last time you were in the forest. What did you hear?
Personally, I love the smell of a forest. It’s richly scented with wild flowers, and the minty, pine, honey scent of eucalyptus trees. But, the forest can also smell unpleasant. There are stagnant pools of water, dead animals, and the foul smell of animal dung.
What about the taste of a forest? Now, before you run off into the forest, in the name of research, to find out the tastes of a forest, just be careful not to pop random berries or leaves into your mouth for obvious reasons! Think about what can be found in the forest? What does a mushroom taste like? Are berries sweet or sour? And what would pine needle tea taste like?
Have you ever ran through a forest? What did the leaves feel like as they brushed against your sleeveless arms, or as you brushed up against the rough bark of a tree? How does the soft forest breeze feel against your heated skin, or the hot, muggy, thick unmoving air, that makes your clothes stick to your body?
Of course, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches of a forest in winter will be greatly different to a forest in summer, or spring, or autumn. They will even be different between morning, noon and evening. And do not get me started on a forest in the dead of night. SPOOKY!
Do you see, just by really thinking about each of the senses, our forest that is just full of trees, really takes on a life of its own? It comes alive and your readers will feel as if they are there in the forest with your characters.
One last point. As a rule of thumb, I tend to use at least two (three if possible) of the five senses in every scene.
Here is an example from my own writing. This piece is taken from my latest release, Of Love and Vengeance.
The first example is a scene without using any of the sense to set the scene:
She stood poised in the middle of the stream, her bow and arrow at the ready, as she waited for tonight’s evening meal to swim by.
It's a bit blah, isn't it? You don't really feel like you're there in the stream with her. There is no connection to the scene.
Now, here it is with the senses...
The sun was warm on Laila’s back, and she closed her eyes and sighed as the cool, clean crisp water slipped over her bare feet. The mud, sticky and thick, squished between her curled toes. The low hum of insects and trill of birds filled the otherwise quiet clearing.
She stood poised in the middle of the stream, her skirts hitched up around her thighs and her bow and arrow at the ready, as she waited for tonight’s evening meal to swim by. She winced as the sharp edge of a rock bit into the fleshy under sole of her foot. But she did not dare move.
See the difference, aside from the increased word count!
Why not pick out a scene you’re currently working on and think about the setting. How many of the five senses have you used? Can you add more depth to your scene by getting to know your setting?
If you’re feeling brave, why not share a paragraph or two that clearly shows the characteristics of your setting by using at least three of the five senses?