Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Painting Your Setting

"If the setting is very significant, you should know it well and weave details carefully in the fabric of events. If the setting is not very significant, do not burden your reader with unnecessary details. Too much description can get in the way of the story."
~ Robert Demaria

Every artist has a variety of different colors in their paint pallets, pastels, charcoals, etc. These colors help the artist bring their pictures to life. Without the color, their art would be dull. Plain. Look around - the world is full of color! The different shades of blue, orange, and yellow that the artist used in this painting helps bring the sunrise to life.

Writing scenery is much like painting scenery. Instead of writing a black-and-white, never-ending setting description, add a few colorful setting details. We also have to choose carefully the words we use to paint a setting if we want to relay a certain emotion. For instance, let's say an author is writing a scene where the protagnist's boyfriend is breaking up with her at a park. Obviously the author would want the reader to feel sadness, disappointment. How would she do this through weaving in setting details?

Here is a wrong example of how the author should write this scene:

He turned and starred at me for a while, his watery eyes washing my smile away. Clasping his hands through mine, he said, "Listen, I'm really sorry. But... I want to break up."
My heart dropped. I slowly shook my head as I backed away. Then, after giving once last look into those piercing brown eyes, I walked off.
As I headed toward my car, giggles rolled out of me while passing a group of kids playing tag.

Yes, it's good that the author included a setting detail in this scene - but don't you think the girlfriend would be a little more annoyed at the playful kids since her boyfriend just broke up with her? Your protagnist's attitude toward the setting helps bring out the emotion you want to relay through a scene. Simarly, an artist wouldn't paint a dandellion if he wanted to express sorrow. Choose your colors carefully.

Other ways that you can show your setting without writing long description paragraphs are through the way people are dressed, dialogue, how people speak, description of weather and temperature, etc.

Here are a few other specific ways to help add setting description:

1) Sensory details.
Instead of telling the setting to the reader, let them feel as if they are there. Put yourself in your protganist's shoes. What do you hear? See? Smell? What's it taste like, or look like?

2) Personification.
I'm not sure how other authors feel about personficiation, but I love it. Not only does it give imagery, but personification can also help with the mood of the scene. Make sure your personification isn't cheesy, though. Robin Jones Gunn does a great job of using personification through setting in her stories.

3) Metaphors and similies.
When I was in second grade, my stories consist of one similie after another. My teacher taught that similies were a great way to explain something, so I thought the more, the better. However, I have now learned that adding too many similies can weigh down your story - not to mention they become really cheesy. But when used carefully every now and then at the right places, similies can be beneficial to your imagery.

What are some other ways that you paint your setting without writing black-and-white description paragraphs? Let me know!


An artist's colors, brush strokes, and title all help benefit the message he/she wants to relay through his painting. He wouldn't paint a picture of a storm cloud if he wanted the mood of the painting to be cheerful, would he? The setting of a story has more to do with than just where the story takes place. Think about the conflict and the important details. Is your setting necessary relating to the conflict? Does it impact your story?

Remember: Don't just sketch your setting. Paint it.


  1. Once again, great post, Tessa! I love your blog :)

    Setting is a tricky subject for me. I personally think I suck at it, yet ironically it's probably what I'm most complimented for in my writing.

    I try to add a few details that set the mood, show where the character's are, and make the setting accomplish something, whether it's a mood/feeling, distraction/obstacle for the character, or something else.

    I detest paragraph upon paragraph of description in the novels I read, so I try to keep that in mind when I write, and add just enough details. Not as easy as it sounds! :)

  2. that was great! and very helpful! I will begin writing very soon, and use your ideas for better writing

  3. Wow. How come none of my 16-year-old English students are as brilliant as you? Fantastic post! I'm bookmarking this one. :-)

  4. I found your profile on another blog that I follow and I added myself to follow you. I invite you to visit my blog and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You, Ron

  5. Mia: I’m not that great with setting either, actually. I usually get so into my dialogue that I forget to have the characters interact with their surroundings. =)

    Shannon O'Donnell: Thank you! I love your blog also. =)

  6. Great post - such an important topic. "Don't just sketch your setting. Paint it." I love that!


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