Eighth Commandment

Thou Shalt Establish and Maintain Setting

Another form of exposition is establishing setting or world-building. A story with a weak sense of setting starts to feel very hypothetical and cerebral; good luck trying to convince any reader that the characters are real or relatable.

The first few chapters of a novel are typically filled with descriptions about where the story’s characters exist: location, surroundings, culture, work environment, community or societal goings-on, etc. The real challenge is maintaining a clear sense of setting throughout the entire story that can translate to maintaining believability.  Characters do not stop being affected by their surroundings in chapter three.

The problem is that the plot can quickly take over the attention of a writer. Dialogue and action begin to dominate the storytelling. A character may have strong intentions to say or do something, but if their environment is sweltering hot, devoid of water, and plagued by the stench of decaying flesh,  this setting will grossly affect their words or actions.

If you want the reader to believe your characters’ words or actions, put them in a place, describe it well, and show them reacting (appropriate to their nature) to the pressures, limitations, and/or opportunities of that environment. Clearly maintaining setting throughout the entire story means less difficulty in maintaining believability.


Bottom Line for FQP Submissions:

If you submit a manuscript that reveals substantial neglect of setting, you basically have two options: Resubmit at a later date with the setting description that makes a substantial contribution to the characters’ journey or work with one of FQP’s developmental editors to resolve the setting issues (typically from $50 – $200.)


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