Setting is where a story take place.
It can include the historical period, what the room looks like, or the town, or the outdoor environment. It is not static, but a living breathing quality of literature.
Questions to ask:
- Does the reader need to know this?
- What does it contribute to the story?
- How does the writer make the setting essential to the action and the meaning of the story?
Setting Examples from two works of fiction.
Notice the two different styles, and apply this to your reading for this week, in your reading response.
1. Maximalist Setting
Includes: Overflowing abundance of information and detail. Can seem gratuitous and excessive or richly evocative.
Work of fiction: Grand Ambition, novel by Lisa Michaels
Topic: Married couple Glen and Bessie embark on the first ever 1928 rapids boat trip down the Grand Canyon
“[Bessie] sat n the bare box springs in the center of the boat, while Glen stood on a cross plank, working the long sweeps. They were plowing through a caramel river—thick, with a greasy sheen. It ran flat and smooth to the banks, which were bare and just high enough to block the views on either side. A deep ditch, really. A canal. Within it, the boat looked rather substantial: a flat-bottomed barge the size of a peddler’s wagon, piled with supplies. A box stove, a .30-30 rifle, two cartons of bullets, crates of canned peaches and tomatoes and beans, rope and blankets. Bessie kept her things wrapped in oilskin: a box camera, twenty-seven dollars in a beaded purse—a sentimental object, frivolous for any occasion ahead—pencils, charcoal, a sketchbook, and blank diary.”
- The river is greasy.
- Practicality contrasts with frivolous purse.
- Some items just useful enough to make them plausible without sentimental.
- Every sentence provides key information.
- The river, boat, and objects in the boat are almost characters too.
- The river is antagonist, the boat is a protector.
2. Minimalist Setting
Includes: Just enough detail to give an impression.
Work of fiction: “Thailand” short story from the book “Thailand” by Haruki Murakami, 2000
“Together, they passed through Bangkok’s vulgar, noisy, polluted streets. The traffic crawled along, people cursed each other, and the sound of car horns tore through the atmosphere like an air-raid siren. Plus, there were elephants lumbering down the street—and not just one or two of them. What were elephants doing in a city like this? she asked Nimit.
‘Their owners bring them from the country,’ he explained. ‘They used to use them for logging, but there was not enough work for them to survive that way. They brought their animals to the city to make money doing tricks for tourists. Now there are far too many elephants here, and that makes things very difficult for the city people. Sometimes an elephant will panic and run amok. Just the other day, a great many automobiles were damaged that way. The police try to put a stop to it, of course, but they cannot confiscate the elephants from their keepers. There would be no place to put them if they did, and the cost of feeding them would be enormous. All they can do is leave them alone.’”
What Murakami does:
- Only three sentences of description, and short ones.
- Just enough to give an impression of the daily chaos of the streets and to introduce elephants so the character Nimit can tell us about their history.
- Images of elephants resonates with themes of displacement, loneliness, and loss that runs through the story.
- Description and details play a minor role.
- Fable: meaning is conveyed almost entirely through action and dialogue.
When setting works well:
Character’s attitudes are as important as detail, and are intertwined.
Tone can equal a feeling in a good setting.
Desire and longing can be shown in the descriptive details.