Setting – When Your Places Are As Important As Your People
A Guest Post by Rusty Fischer, author of Ushers, Inc.
Writing YA is a great excuse to revisit some of the most evocative, poignant and powerful places from my own youth. For many young adult readers as well, particularly those who are only “young” at heart (like myself), reading about such places brings them back to high school as well.
So when I sit down to write a particular scene, in a particular YA novel, place is never too far removed from the people I’m writing about. In many ways, in fact, my places are just as important as my people.
I don’t spend a ton of time writing or blogging about craft. Partly because it’s not my expertise. By that I mean, I got a degree to teach English, not so much to write it. Most of what I know about writing came from the books I’ve read and, more recently, the books I’ve written.
So while it’s easy for me to write about zombies, vampires or werewolves, tackling much “scarier” topics like symbolism, third person omniscient (what *is* that, anyway????) and theme are far more challenging. That said, I think I can speak confidently on one literary element at least, and that’s setting.
For me, books always start with a place (setting). I can’t separate it from my people (characters), let alone my story (plot). When I sat down to write my debut YA novel, Zombies Don’t Cry, I just knew it had to start in a cemetery.
I didn’t have Maddy or Stamp or Chloe or Dane or Bones or Dahlia or a single character in mind yet, but I could already “see” an opening scene in a graveyard.
That scene was more about starting a book; it was also about setting a tone. I mean, you start your book in a graveyard, you’re pretty much grounding your readers in a rich, varied, accessible setting right away. It’s the literary equivalent of a soundtrack. I can’t play creepy music to set the scene, but I can drop you right into a scary place and, if done right, it can be just as effective.
The thing about writing YA, you’re never really at a shortage of settings. And the thing is, for present, past or even future teens, most of them are so darn powerful. A locker room, for instance, is a very powerful setting. The hissing showers, the chlorine smell, the slamming lockers, the popping towels, the snapping bras… it’s almost instant emotion.
For those who sail through high school, the pretty or popular or cool ones, it’s usually a positive emotion; and that’s good. But for most of us who struggled with our looks, our bodies, our social standing, it’s a generally negative one; and that’s better!
The danger, of course, is in setting the scene and then thinking your job is done just because folks already know what a locker room looks like; or a gym or a cafeteria or a Chem lab. It’s not enough to just describe a place in the first two paragraphs of a scene, oral report style, and then… let it go.
A good setting isn’t just a background player but a supporting role. Describing what the locker room looks like up front is good, but slamming a locker door midway through the scene reminds them where they are, as do smelly socks, slick floor tiles, a slipping towel, etc.
The idea for my new YA supernatural romance, Ushers, Inc. – about four movie ushers who know more than the cops, the government and even the Marines about stopping werewolves, vampires and zombies – came to me while sitting in a movie theater.
So place was very, very important while writing that book. There are four main characters in that book; four Ushers who form Ushers, Inc. You could say that the theater they work in is really a fifth character. It’s such a big part of their world, the popcorn smells and constantly wiping off the glass concession stand and tearing tickets and finding seats, how could it be anything but?
So, that’s my take on setting. Not only is it important to your characters, but to your readers. Part of the joy of reading a book is being taken somewhere new, even if you’ve already been there before.
Few can argue that Hogwarts isn’t a strong, central character in the Harry Potter series, much as The Shire played a leading role in The Hobbit. But you don’t have to create a fictional world to create a strong setting. In YA, in particular, there are plenty of existing places just waiting to be explored!
Yours in YA,
About the author: Rusty Fischer is the author of several YA supernatural novels, including Zombies Don’t Cry, Ushers, Inc., Vamplayers, I Heart Zombie and Panty Raid @ Zombie High. Visit his blog, www.zombiesdontblog.blogspot.com, for news, reviews, cover leaks, writing and publishing advice, book excerpts and more!
THANK YOU, Rusty! Awesome insights. I never realized how the simple elements of the setting really do make the story more awesome. Looking forward to reading more of your books!
*Bounders, if you haven’t yet, check out Rusty’s Blog (there’s some FREE awesomeness on there!). You can also find him on Goodreads.*
Now for the AWESOME GIVEAWAY!Rusty has been very generous to give Bound & Determined…two (2) copies of the Ushers, Inc. ebook to give away to two (2) lucky Bounders!
Here’s the skinny:
1. You don’t have to be a follower (but it would be awesome if you are).
2. Giveaway is open internationally.
3. Two lucky Bounders will be chosen at random. Notification will be sent by email, you will have 2 days (48hours) to reply or new Bounders will be chosen (I will also announce the winners on the blog!).
4. Entries will be accepted through August 31, 2011.
5. Fill out the entry form below: