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Does Your Story Have the “Extraordinary Factor”?
One of the joys of fiction is its ability to transport us to faraway places. Just by cracking the covers of a book, we can visit the far reaches of Zurich or São Paulo and the imaginative wonders of made-up worlds and galaxies. We plan our settings meticulously, researching details and creating spectacular backdrops. In light of all that work and fascination, however, we often lose sight of the fact that settings are more than scenery. They’re the cohesive grounding, the foundation, of the whole story—and as such they need to be used with sparing care. In his marvelously insightful book The Anatomy of Story, film consultant John Truby points out: Many writers… mistakenly believe that since you can go anywhere, you should. This is a serious mistake, because if you break the single arena of your story, the drama will literally dissipate. Having too many arenas results in fragmented, inorganic stories. The most powerful stories are inevitably those that are distilled to the most inherent ingredients by removing extraneous information that detracts from their potent focus. Introducing a slew of settings is much like introducing a slew of characters: The reader’s attention fragments, and both the writer and the reader have to spend more time and effort to keep track of details and orient their emotional connection.

Following are some tips for distilling your settings to the perfect number: 1. Choose your primary settings wisely. Setting should never be an arbitrary decision. Instead of throwing your characters into the first locale that pops to mind, consider the needs of your story. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in this setting, so you need to choose a place that will enhance the requirements of your plot. 2. Utilize and explore your primary setting. Once you’ve decided upon an interesting setting, take advantage of it. If your character is in a prisoner of war camp, a spaceship, a cattle ranch, or a Victorian mansion, then use every nook and cranny to further your story and hold your reader’s attention. Readers would much rather explore one fascinating setting, rather than catch only a glimpse of half a dozen. 3. Combine settings. Streamline your sub-settings by combining them wherever possible. Instead of sending your protagonist to a restaurant, a pub, and a food fair, try combining them. This eliminates the need to describe a new setting in every scene, allows your readers the satisfaction of returning to a familiar place, and presents deepening layers of possibilities with recurring minor characters. 4. Foreshadow settings. Maintaining only the needed number of settings allows you unprecedented opportunities for foreshadowing. When important scenes occur in familiar settings, it’s that much easier to lay the groundwork in earlier scenes, thus bringing your characters full circle and providing a gratifying sense of closure for readers. As one of the most important resources in your possession, settings need to be utilized wisely and frugally, so they can bring their full impact to the story.

About the Author: K.M. Weiland grew up chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on horseback through the sand hills of western Nebraska, where she still lives. A lifelong fan of history and the power of the written word, she enjoys sharing both through her novels and short stories. Visit her blogs Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture to read her take on the writing life.

www.wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com www.kmweiland.com/podcast/podcast-rss.xml www.authorculture.blogspot.com www.kmweiland.com

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