Hello everyone! Grace here to highlight the importance of a literary device, setting, in our writings.
Setting is the time and place where a story or scene occurs. It can help set the mood, influence the way characters behave, affect the dialog, foreshadow events, invoke an emotional response, reflect the society in which the characters live, and sometimes even plays a part in the story. The definition of setting can also include social statuses, weather, historical period, and details about immediate surroundings. Settings can be real or fictional, or a combination of both real and fictional elements. Some settings are very specific (Wulfhall in Wiltshire England in 1500), while others are descriptive (a boat out on the ocean).
To make the setting come alive, it’s important to include significant details. That doesn’t mean describing everything the characters see, or giving a complete history of where the scene occurs. Giving enough information to help readers visualize the setting is important, but too many minor details will bog down the story rather than move it forward.
There are ways to clarify the setting without using long descriptive passages. For example:
a) The type of vocabulary the characters use can suggest where they live or where the scene occurs. Use of local words or products will hint the country or town e.g. ice wine from Niagara Town, Canada. Teens from Chicago will sound different from teenagers in rural Kentucky. Ordering a Caramel Macchiato implies a more sophisticated restaurant than if the character orders a pop soda.
b) The weather can indicate the time of year, or general location of the scene. Mentioning a typhoon, humid summer, or snowstorm, will give readers clues as to where or when the scene takes place. The smell of food or spices rising from the pot or fragrance of a certain flower wafting on a gentle breeze suggests a different setting than the smell and noise of construction asphalt permeating the city air.
c) Describing a dark, gloomy house or a shadowy forest can suggest something suspenseful may occur, setting the tone as well as giving details about the location. Candles flickering or opening the wine bottle can hint at mystery or romance; adding other details will help clarify their significance.
d) Give the setting a purpose to fulfill. An exotic location can be a backdrop for a steamy romance or a wild adventure. A mountainous terrain can be a source of danger and add suspense. A walk into a river can be scene of solitude and add calmness and thoughtful reflection. A hospital waiting room can suggest trauma and pain, adding tension to the story. An empty room can hint grief or signal new beginnings.
In this contemporary poem, “Jack,” Maxine Kumin reflects back on a different time and place. She remembers the exact year and season in which a horse named Jack did not have a stall for himself. This reflection of the brutal winter sets the mood of nostalgia and regret that permeates the entirety of the short poem.
Maxine Kumin – 1925-2014
How pleasant the yellow butter
melting on white kernels, the meniscus
of red wine that coats the insides of our goblets
where we sit with sturdy friends as old as we are
after shucking the garden’s last Silver Queen
and setting husks and stalks aside for the horses
the last two of our lives, still noble to look upon:
our first foal, now a bossy mare of 28
which calibrates to 84 in people years
and my chestnut gelding, not exactly a youngster
at 22. Every year, the end of summer
lazy and golden, invites grief and regret:
suddenly it’s 1980, winter buffets us,
winds strike like cruelty out of Dickens. Somehow
we have seven horses for six stalls. One of them,
a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president’s portrait
lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls. We call it
the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his
hay in the water bucket to soften it, then visits the others
who hang their heads over their dutch doors. Sometimes
he sprawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters.
That spring, in the bustle of grooming
and riding and shoeing, I remember I let him go
to a neighbor I thought was a friend, and the following
fall she sold him down the river. I meant to
but never did go looking for him, to buy him back
and now my old guilt is flooding this twilit table
my guilt is ghosting the candles that pale us to skeletons
the ones we must all become in an as yet unspecified order.
Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone
did you remember that one good winter?
BY JERICHO BROWN
They lie like stones and dare not shift. Even asleep, everyone hears in prison.
Dwayne Betts deserves more than this dry ink for his teenage years in prison.
In the film we keep watching, Nina takes Darius to a steppers ball.
Lovers hustle, slide, and dip as if none of them has a brother in prison.
I eat with humans who think any book full of black characters is about race.
A book full of white characters examines insanity—but never in prison.
His whole family made a barricade of their bodies at the door to room 403.
He died without the man he wanted. What use is love at home or in prison?
We saw police pull sharks out of the water just to watch them not breathe.
A brother meets members of his family as he passes the mirrors in prison.
Sundays, I washed and dried her clothes after he threw them into the yard.
In the novel I love, Brownfield kills his wife, gets only seven years in prison.
I don’t want to point my own sinful finger, so let’s use your clean one instead.
Some bright citizen reading this never considered a son’s short hair in prison.
In our house lived three men with one name, and all three fought or ran.
I left Nelson Demery III for Jericho Brown, a name I earned in prison.
The writing challenge: Bring us to a time and place in your poem. Give us the smells, sights and sounds of your setting. Note that settings can be real or fictional, or a combination of both real and fictional elements.