Treeline, Skyline, And Once-Grand Homes
As I write this, I am looking out the window of Mom’s 4th floor hospital room. Snow is falling; sometimes nothing more than flurries while at other times hard enough to obscure everything beyond the roof below. A quarter mile away—just beyond the evergreen treeline—the center tower of the 31st Street Bridge dominates the skyline. It rises 280 feet above the road and is threaded with great cables which provide the deck’s support. Between here and there, several once-grand homes line brick streets and avenues. The last of autumn’s foliage carpets several yards. A stiff December wind pushes and pulls the barren treetops, forcing them to dance to a silent tune. In the distance—on the Ohio side of the river—vehicle lights are starting to appear like will-o-the-wisps at the coming of dusk.
Aside from the serenity the scene provides, my writer’s mind begins to consider the details of a story’s setting. Whether it is a small neighborhood, like the one I see, or an entire world, detail is important. Regardless of the story’s genre, its setting needs to have cohesion. For example, each piece of the landscape moves autonomously—from the large maple outside our window to the distant treeline. Despite being individual entities of nature, the trees are connected by both the wind which moves them and the earth from which they grow. Imagine your setting is a puzzle. While some writers fill their stories with page after page of detail, others may use the barest of description. If everything fits together like a completed puzzle, the setting feels natural regardless of how wordy the author chooses to be.
Look, for comparison, at J.R.R. Tolkien and Dr. Seuss. Both authors gave us distinct settings; Tolkien detailed the whole of Middle Earth, while Seuss focused on small locations like Whoville. Each setting is familiar and feels completely natural despite the quirkiness involved. Both men introduced us to new languages. Seuss gave us words like lorax, wumbus, and nerd, whereas Tolkien created entire languages for the various races of Middle Earth. It is hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of both a grinch and a hobbit. As far as settings go, Tolkien provided much more detail than Seuss, yet each man makes their particular world come alive.
When it comes down to setting, it isn’t how much or how little detail you have, it is how cohesive everythng fits together. Cohesion makes it easier for the reader to get lost in the story. One thing to remember, however, is that a great setting alone isn’t enough; you need a plot and characters worthy of their surroundings.
Just thought I would jot this down.