What part of writing do you resist the most? What is the least enjoyable? What do you put off until the last minute? For me, it’s setting. I used to hate writing setting. Most of my early pieces I naturally wrote in a void of the timeless and spaceless. Even as a reader, I’ve always found the description of place to be very boring. Setting slows down the pacing of action, and sometimes it seems to bring the story to a halt. If I had my way, the reader would simply fill in the setting details themselves without any help from me. And of course, setting has always been one of my weakest areas in writing. Perhaps that may be the clue as to why I’ve disliked it so much.
But it doesn’t work that way. A well-developed setting is needed for world-building, and not all readers share my tastes. Many readers savor the description of setting. They love it when a writer makes a place real for them whether it’s historical, fictional, or actual.
I remember the first time I wrote a setting piece that did my teacher proud. She said it was one of the best pieces on setting she’d ever read – which was a high compliment. In that particular piece, I wrote setting as a character. I wrote about the town I grew up in, a place that I hated from the point of view of its culture as a personality. So there was a lot of energy and even passion to what I wrote. It was cathartic and healing to make fun of my hometown through the written word. I would even say I enjoyed it.
Since then, I’ve been able to tackle setting in my stories with less reluctance and more willingness. I try to make the descriptions beautiful and sumptuous, and therefore more interesting to read. I also try to make the sense of time and place unique and fantastical. After all, this is a fantasy world I’m writing about, so make it beyond this ordinary world.
Yet it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the settings in my novel are nameless. The setting of the Ella Bandita stories is vaguely any country in pre-Industrial Europe, the implication that the country in question could be Italy or Spain or Portugal. Yet there are some scenes with winter and heavy snowfall – in the 3rd novel, snow and ice play a crucial part of creating a setting. So that could be the northern, Scandinavian countries. In other words, I make the setting to suit what I need in the novel, and I’m not going to restrict myself to one particular country, its history, or its limitations. It is also the part of my work that I focus on last, filling in the details as I rewrite.
I wish I had some strong words of wisdom on how to tackle those areas of resistance, those areas of weakness. The only advice I can give is to keep working on it, and perhaps take notes on writers who are strong in your areas of weakness.
So how are some of the ways you handle an area of writing you don’t like or are even weak in? Writing setting as a character in one instance worked to open me up. Even if I still address setting last of all, I wouldn’t say that I hate to write it.