Don’t Let Your Readers Lose Their Way in Your Story

In the past few months of reviewing and editing novel manuscripts, I wrote “You’ve got to set the setting” so many times that I actually started to feel like Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas:

“No, no, no! Listen, all of you! You’ve got to take direction, you’ve got to have discipline, you’ve got to have respect for your director!”

So, after flagging this issue in several authors’ manuscripts in recent times, I figured I should take a look at yet another common pitfall I come across in my daily work as a fiction editor: neglecting to set the setting.

In its most basic sense, the setting of a story scene is the environment the characters inhabit. The setting for a particular scene can include the more obvious markers: time of day, date, season, geographical location, etc. But it can also include items often forgotten but equally or even more important: which characters are on stage right now, the emotional atmosphere of the scene, key pieces of clothing the characters are wearing, the direction the wind is blowing, the constellations visible in the night sky, and the list could go on and on depending on the specific story.

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