A beloved aunt left me her jewelry not long ago. I don’t do a lot of bling so I carefully put most of it away. Except for the sapphire ring. I love that stone. The blue is so true, so deep you feel you could drown in it. It blazes with its own cool fire. Like a crow I covet it in secret. I
love to look at it. Wearing the ring is out of the question—the setting looks as if it came from a box of Cracker Jacks. It is so lifeless it buries the stone in boredom. I don’t know where Aunt Bea got the jewel but given the racy facts of her life I bet it’s a helluva story.
Setting. It carries such an impact. Every writer learns early on that setting is a critical element of good writing. A badly defined setting diminishes a great story as much as that pot metal dulls my sapphire. I’m going to have it reset someday. First, I have to figure out what the perfect setting should be—Integral or Backdrop?
With an Integral setting the story’s environment affects the action and characters. The time and place influences every aspect of the story. A good setting conveys atmosphere and mood – Wuthering Heights could not have taken place anywhere else. I’m thinking my sapphire would be lonely in the Yorkshire moors.
An integral setting can convey so much more than a background for the action. The symbolism of your choice of setting can be powerful. To simply place the reader in an abandoned house is enough to know we’re not in the security and warmth of Grandma’s kitchen — we know it’s empty and holds none of the energy of life. The stage is set for all kinds of otherworldly possibilities from ghosts to demons to zombie politicians.
In all historical fiction an integral setting defines the characters. An aristocratic gentleman in Regency England is as defined by that period as is the beautiful housemaid working in his manner. The setting will mean something to each of these characters and therein lays the story. What does that setting mean to each character? Does each character change and view his or her setting differently? The tension and the action are defined by the period setting.
Fantasy and Sci-fi, any genre with world building, offers the possibility of a setting where the world not only affects the characters,
it can interact with them. That’s when setting becomes a major character in
itself. In addition to mood and atmosphere setting can be a good guy or a bad guy. World building offers the added component of changing the setting. Harry Potter opens in the ordinary world and moves to the incredible, interactive setting of Hogwarts.
All the rich possibilities of an integral setting would overwhelm my sapphire. Backdrop setting however, works for a story that could take place anywhere with no affect on the action or characters—The Emperor’s New Clothes or Winnie the Pooh or Waiting for Godot. All simple
stories with a central message.
My sapphire is universally appealing. It is timeless. This sapphire is like a moral tale. It has a simple message: beauty. That makes a backdrop setting my best choice. I’m not looking for vague and general like many
backdrop settings. I want it to be a clear, simple setting that anchors the
message and then fades gracefully away to let the stone shine. I bet I can find at least 10 of those. Now if only I can get an appointment with VanCleef and Arpels…
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