Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Write a Book Prelims: The Setting

In the last few posts we discussed the implementation of the protagonist and antagonist in the narrative. Also, we have established that the protagonist is the soul of the book, and that certain variations on this philosophy will create for your book the particular feel you are going for. That being said, the setting is the next big thing to establish, which I don't overstate enough when consulting writers. Having a gripping, real setting is extremely important, and it starts with realism and immersion. 


When building a setting it is important for the reader to feel at home in the location where the book transpires. Now of course there are variations on this, like with minimalist settings or surreal settings, but for building a modern novel having an interesting setting that is organic and filled with the things you would come to find and expect in that world is important. If the bulk of your book takes place in a library you must ask questions like...

  • What books do you see on the shelves?
  • Are they old? New?
  • Where is the library located?
  • Is there a homeless guy out front?
Seemingly esoteric things will establish the realism of your setting. I take this approach so that the reader will have a world to get lost in. I don't know if any of you have read White Teeth by Zadie Smith, but if you have you are very aware of the fact that the story takes place in a British society. The setting is filled with British mannerisms, characters, locations, social issues, etc. While this may seem a bit self explanatory, what I am getting at is that when writing a book all the minutiae must be stressed in your book, otherwise the reader will feel conned, or will feel like they are living in a stereotypical world. Again these themes can be manipulated to a certain effect. What if the world was supposed to be stereotypical? Then, naturally, you would insert objects, locations, settings, or people to emulate that feeling.


The aspect of immersion in a book comes after realism. I say this because immersion is the product of realism, and partly having to do with the characters. Good immersion in a book is what occurs when the characters react to the setting in a realistic way. The reader sees this and goes, "Wow. I would do the same thing in that situation." or something to that effect. Archie Jones is pathetic in White Teeth, so it would seem rational that he would interact with the setting at the onset of the book by trying to commit suicide by Carbon Monoxide poisoning in his car. It would be perhaps wrong to say that Archie would doing it by shooting himself, or throwing himself off a bridge because both those options do not fit with how the protagonist would operate in the world. This is incredibly important and can be lost on the writer because the writer is more concerned about making a character say or do certain things to make him more interesting, but would a character really do that, in that world? Maybe, but it still needs to be consistent. This is where establishing plots comes in, But more on that on Thursday. 

As a bit of homework, I want you all to read American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Read just the opening chapters and tell me what is going on. How does Shadow, the main protagonist, react to his environment and it's realism? Understand that question and you will be on the right track.

See you Thursday!

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