(Craft) How Important Is Setting to Your Story?

Setting is to story what a foundation is to a house. I love what author Nina Munteanu wrote about setting: “Setting grounds your writing in the reality of place and depicts the theme of your story through powerful metaphor.”  Just as the foundation grounds a house “in the reality of place,” so does setting ground your story in its own “reality of place.”

Setting is intimately connected with every aspect of your story: with characterization, with plot, and even with theme.  For example, my forthcoming novel, A Sicilian Conspiracy, is set in 19th-century Sicily during a time when the society was patriarchal and riddled with codes of honor detrimental to women. In my story, setting plays a key role not only in my protagonist’s character arc, but also in the outcome of the plot.

What exactly is setting? According to Munteanu, “Setting includes time, place and circumstance. These three form a kind of critical mass that creates the particular setting best suited to your story. If you change any of these it will affect the quality of the others.” In A Sicilian Conspiracy, the time period is Sicily in 1892. The place is a tiny village near the southwestern coast of Sicily. The circumstance centers on a young woman raped and pregnant by her parish priest.  If I were to change any one of these three elements–time, place, or circumstance–the change would affect the entire story.

As you plan your story, think carefully about its setting, especially if you are writing science fiction or fantasy in which you must create a previously non-existent story world.  Then consider the impact of your setting on your characters, your plot, and your theme. Considering your setting with its ramifications will help you to create a more richly layered story, one that your readers will not forget.

Source cited: “Importance of Setting in a Novel” by Nina Munteanu. http://www.scribophile.com/blog/importance-of-setting-in-a-novel/


Using Metaphor in Your Story

The word “metaphor” comes from two Greek words – meta (over, across) and pherein (to carry or bear) — and literally means “to carry over” or “to transfer”. Dr. Daniel McInerny describes metaphor as the desire to illuminate the perception of one thing by juxtaposing it to some other.” (1)

When we use metaphor, we convey the meaning of one thing by using the meaning of another thing. For example, Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In this sentence, the great Bard of Avon compares his beloved to a summer day–a day of beauty and warmth.

Aristotle considered metaphor the greatest of all literary devices, perhaps because the use of metaphor requires the ability to discover similarity in things that are intrinsically different. At the same time, the use of metaphor requires the ability to discover those differences that reduce a thing to its essence.

Metaphor is a very effective literary device in fiction writing. Metaphor serves to create images that juxtapose differences and use one thing to illuminate another. In illuminating differences, metaphor serves to reveal the essence of the two things being compared. In a story, this type of comparison illuminates the essential nature of a character.  When, for instance, I write “The beggar sat on the sidewalk, a king holding court:”, I am juxtaposing two people highly unlikely to be found together: a beggar and a king.  Yet, the very act of comparing two totally different things creates a metaphor that brings out the essence of my beggar character.

Metaphor is a wonderful tool in the fiction writer’s arsenal. Use it well and it will add a new dimension of life to your stories.  

Sources cited:
(1) McInerny, Daniel. “How to Use Metaphor to Enrich Your Stories.” http://www.writers-village.org/writing-award-blog/how-to-use-metaphor-to-enrich-your-stories

Writing Truly

true sentenceWhen facing writer’s block, Ernest Hemingway would encourage himself by saying, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

What did Hemingway mean by a “true sentence”? Here are my thoughts regarding a true sentence in fiction writing:

  • A true sentence is a sentence that shows and doesn’t tell.
  • A true sentence is a sentence that contains a strong verb or verbs.
  • A true sentence is a sentence that says exactly what you want it to say.
  • A true sentence is a sentence that uses the best words to say exactly what you want to say.
  • A true sentence is economical. It contains no superfluous words.
  • A true sentence is emotive. It strikes heart chords and makes them reverberate with meaning.
  • A true sentence transforms the reader by offering him a life perspective that aligns with truth.
  • A true sentence is a sentence that reveals the truth about who you are as a fiction writer.

Now, what are your thoughts? What does a “true sentence” mean to you?

Copyright 2014 by MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Source: Microsoft Clipart

Story and the Brain

Wired for StoryI’ve been reading a fascinating book called Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. The book discusses the way the brain responds to story. While Ms. Cron approaches her work from an evolutionary standpoint, her research can easily be approached from a Biblical worldview.

Bottomline, God wired us for story. The whole of human history is a story–His Story–as we believers recognize. Moreover, God created the human heart to respond to story. Hence, the powerful parables of Jesus.

Given these truths, how can we write our stories in such a way that they align with the way God created our brains to function?  Here are a few key points that Ms. Cron calls “cognitive secrets” to keep in mind as we write our stories:

  • The brain thinks in stories. Therefore, when we write, we must hook our reader from the very first word because the reader wants to know what will happen next.
  • The brain is goal-oriented. Therefore, the protagonist we create must have a clear goal.
  • The brain thinks in specifics. Therefore, we must use details, not abstracts, in creating our story.
  • The brain resists change. Yet, story is about change. And change produces conflict.
  • The brain continually makes cause-and-effect relationships. Therefore, our stories must follow a logical pattern of cause and effect. 

As you write your next story, keep these points in mind. Your story will be more powerful and effective because it will be aligned with the way God made the human brain to work.
Source Cited: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2012). Print. 262 pages.

Your Protagonist’s Inner Journey

It is a fictional truism to say that the best stories are character-driven.  Starting with this premise, let’s look at how we can make our protagonist–whether hero or heroine–one who will stand out forever in the memory of your readers. 

When creating your protagonist, it is essential that you give her an inner conflict. This inner conflict results from an issue the character has, an issue about which she may not even be aware.  But the issue is there, nonetheless, keeping your protagonist from fulfilling her destiny in your story. Unless she faces her issue and deals with it, the issue will eventually “break” her. The story is the protagonist’s process of facing her issue. This process, also known as the character arc, will force her either to deal with her issue or to miss her destiny. 

In his excellent book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, novelist and editor Jeff Gerke states: “If great fiction is about bringing the main character to a breaking point over a particular ‘sin,’ then all the events of the story are about bringing the character to that moment” (p. 76). 

With what “sin” is your protagonist dealing? Bring your character to an emotionally powerful breaking point over that sin, and watch your fiction move up a notch on the scale of excellence.


Source Cited:

Gerke, Jeff. The Art & Craft of Writing Christian FictionColorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press, 2009. Print.