Stop Looking at Me, Oprah! Or, Why Settings Are So Important to Your Stories

This time last year, (it was winter, I remember it well ), I went down to Melbourne for the weekend.

I was catching up with family, having dinner with my publisher, doing a spot of shopping.

All the nice things.

Instead of staying in a hotel, I decided I try an air bnb, city stay, thingy.

The pics looked nice on the internet! (You’ve heard that before, right?)

And it was in a great locale— inner suburbs, close to tram, walk to cafes etc.

A ‘precinct’ no less.

But the apartment?

Buh bow.

For starters, it was freezing. One rickety oil heater you had to sit on to get your blood moving.

And once you got off the heater, there was nowhere else to sit.

True!

There was only one tiny couch and it was built for Lilliputians.

Basically it was a toy couch. A faux ‘chaise lounge’.

Every time I sat on it, I felt like Jerry Hall perched on a toadstool. ( And if you’ve seen me IRL, you’ll know long legs are not my problem.)

65e58bd80b723f45968cc82b600deabe
I wish…

I had to go upstairs and sit on the bed if I wanted to rest my weary arse.

Which brings me to the staircase.

It was (precariously) attached to a brick wall on one side.

And nothing on the other.

Meaning.

The staircase had no banister.

No railings.

No support structure whatsoever.

I had vertigo every time I went to the toilet.

I  clung (like Spiderman) to the brick wall as I clawed my way along.

Higher and higher and higher.

Descending was even more terrifying.

My palms are sweating just at the memory.

The hot water shit itself just as I was about to glam up and go out. I almost cried. (Okay, I did cry). I was so cold. I was looking forward to that shower!

There was a plunger on the bathroom cabinet because, you guessed it, the drain kept blocking.

SHHHLURRRRP!

Plus, there were photos of Oprah Winfrey everywhere.

Not that I don’t love Oprah. It’s just I don’t need her ogling me every time I undress.

It’s… unnerving.

web-oprah-getty
‘I’ve seen enough.’

 

So, why am I telling you this, dear reader?

I’m telling you because, when it comes to stories, your choice of setting counts.

Big time!

Settings can make or break your characters.

Settings provide atmosphere.

Challenges.

Authenticity.

Intimacy. 

Characters interact with their setting and, as a result, the reader gets to see what the character is made of. (Remember show don’t tell? Settings will help you with that.)

Will our hero crumble?

Will she rage?

Will she slam someone with the plunger?

Will she draw a moustache on Oprah????

In the Scribbles Academy, I have an entire module devoted to settings.

Why?

Because settings are just as important as characters.

Sometimes even more so.

Settings have a life of their own.

Settings are characters.

Settings add colour, variety, nuance and depth to your story.

Above all, well drawn settings give your reader a visceral and memorable experience.

Surely that’s what storytelling is all about?

You agree, don’t you?

Thought so.

Now, where’s my knee rug? It’s bloody FREEZING in here!

Jen xo


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3 Replies to “Stop Looking at Me, Oprah! Or, Why Settings Are So Important to Your Stories”

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