Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Learn to Write Sensational Settings and Immerse Your Readers in the Stories You Create

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Stories happen in a place and that place is the setting. 

Setting is 
  • Time 
  • Place
  • Surroundings
  • Mood
  • Cultural nuances
  • Historical period
  • A backdrop for a story

Settings have four personality types 
  • Passive
  • Active
  • Functions Like a Character
  • Is the Story

A story can travel to encompass several or all of the types of settings. The tale can move in no particular order from a passive background to an active backdrop, from functioning like a character to being the focus of the story. In each setting your story where your story takes place, describe to your reader what is unusual. 

Passively Passive

A passive setting happens when the background is so ordinary as to be nearly invisible.

Here’s an example from my story, Is That All.

    Immediately upon giving birth to her fifth child, Nelma's arms were empty. The hospital staff whisked away the baby before she could see him.
    "I want to see my son," Nelma insisted.
    "You need to understand, there are problems with the baby." The doctor explained that perhaps Nelma and her husband should consider an institution for their newborn. 
    "I want to see my son," Nelma repeated.
    So the new bundle of babe was brought and placed in his mother's arms. Nelma smelled the sweet new baby smell of him; she cooed to the little boy and cradled him to her heart. Then, ever so carefully, she unwrapped his blanket. There lay her infant, born without legs, his hands and arms not fully developed. Nelma took it all in, caressed his soft new skin, and smiled into his trusting eyes.
    "Oh," she said softly, "is that all?"

In this story, the hospital is a passive setting because, typically, readers are familiar with medical facilities. From personal experience or television and film, readers know how hospitals function, look, smell. Penning Is That All, I did not need to describe what doctors, nursing staff, moms, dads, and babies look like. We are familiar with the birth process, baby blankets, and the general appearance of a newborn. 

To describe these aspects of the story would merely bog down the pace and bore the reader into a coma. Additionally, these cast members are not this story.

While readers know what babies generally look and act like, I described this baby because this child’s unique, out of the ordinary appearance is the story. There lay her infant, born without legs, his hands and arms not fully developed.

When writing the setting for your story, allow the common staging to passively blend nearly invisible into the background. Short descriptions place your reader with your characters in a familiar background that frames the story.
  • Walking in the forest
  • Sitting in the pew, second row piano side
  • Aboard the commercial flight
  • Seated in the Oval Office
  • Saddling the horse
  • From the passenger seat of the car
  • During dinner
  • At her desk
  • In the theater
  • On the beach
  • Talking over brunch
  • Scanning the crowd

Powerful drama can happen in the most undramatic places. Passive or familiar settings require less description and provide contrast between the ordinary and the unusual. 

Trust your reader to know the common bits of the background so you can focus on the uncommon elements that create story. 

As your story unfolds, use setting to tell the reader when and where they are, and how the surroundings influence character, dialog, and plot.


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre Wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of thirty books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make. Founder of SingleMomCircle.com, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/peggysuewells

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