Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How a Good Setting Can SHOW and not TELL

I found this article on the NYTimes. It was about one of my favorite shows, Modern Family, and how the settings in the show give away so much about the characters.

For example, right when you enter Phil and Claire's home, you are struck with a mix of Pottery Barn furniture, pictures along the stairwell, and a friendly amount of clutter. The atmosphere screams "YOUR CLASSIC AMERICAN FAMILY LIVES HERE!" On the other hand, Claire's father lives in an extremely contemporary, well kept house.

(A great thing I saw when reading the comments: People LIKE it when the setting corresponds to the characters. This in general goes back to our main point that most readers prefer a character's actions and happenings to make sense in terms of who they are.)

Although there are differences between movies, television shows, and books, I think that a setting can say so much. I thought of these questions in terms of my characters and hope they help:

  1. How is this character's living area indicative of his/her financial situation/preferences?
  2. Is she/he alone or have five roommates in the heart of San Francisco? (Ex. A struggling painter would probably not live by himself in a two bedroom place...a prosperous one might.)
  3. How does he/she get to work? What does he/she pass on the way? Any common stops?
  4. Do they like where they are?
  5. What hangs on his/her walls? Is the place cluttered, neat, or in the middle?

Don't forget to enter the giveaway if you haven't already!!

(I will be picking 2 winners!)

*Picture from weheartit.com


  1. Great questions to ask of characters.

  2. I like your header:)
    My worst prblem is accurately setting the scene immediately when the MC walks on to the stage and sees something.

  3. Great post! I have similar questions that I ask when considering a characters habitation, car, dress, etc.

    And is it just me, or is it really pink around here lately?

  4. Great post, Saumya! I'll definitely consider those questions. I like the last one especially. How someone decorates and takes care of her home definitely says something about her!

    I'd add something else: What kind of car does he have? How clean is it and what kind of shape is it in (inside and outside)? Does she even have a car or does she use some other kind of transportation?

    I know that's not really about a home, but the cleanliness and shape of people's cars usually determines how their house looks, too!

    I wrote about your giveaway on my blog today! :)

  5. I definitely think that's true! My MC's room is very cluttered and spastic, just like she is. A good thing to remember. :)

  6. thanks for dropping by Saumya and your nice comment :) Wow writing and med school - you like to keep busy!

    Great post - character and setting are strongly inter-related, it's amazing how much location can play a part in story and your questions are really helpful!

  7. I'm the type of writer that has to go back to add in setting. I don't like letting setting dictate the story I need to tell.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  8. So important to get the setting right. Great questions to ask. I might need to look at some of those. :)

  9. Your new header is cool.

    I always try to match setting and food with characters. It's fun to create whole lives for the people. As I fill in the blanks, I understand them more.

    Good post.

  10. Great post Saumya! And I LOVED the blog's new design!
    And setting is really important, I specially like to set it and then make the character behave in a completely surprizing manner against it. I know, Im a tad crazy...