Your Place or Mine?
Sonia Rao asks, “What is the role of the setting in your novel?”
- When George Lucas first wrote the script of Star Wars, he was rejected by every major studio, all of them expressing the same concern, “No one would pay to see a film about a war in space.”
- A large part of Aravind Adiga’s latest offering ‘Last Man in the Tower’ is set in Vishram Housing Society, located in Santa Cruz (East), a suburb in Mumbai.
- One of the beloved classics, ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Brontë, is set in the gloomy moors of the English countryside.
Though the setting has played an important role in each of the stories mentioned above the author doesn’t refer to them over and over again but it is also true that the settings have imbued the stories with a particular outlook and the characters with well-defined attitudes and characteristics. Outer space is no longer the same after Star Wars and in Wuthering Heights the moors form a suitably gloomy backdrop to Heathcliffe and Catherine’s doomed love story.
Every Mumbaikar is privy to life in the eastern suburbs as compared to the western and both are completely different to that in ‘town’ the southernmost part of Mumbai. In ‘Last Man in Tower’ Aravind Adiga has ingeniously interwoven these nuances to add depth to his story.
It is thus quite apparent that the setting is one of the key components of a gripping novel and adequate attention must be paid to ensure that there are no elements in the setting that could jar with the reader.
The setting, which sets the mood of the story and depends heavily on the genre, includes but is not restricted to:
- Location landmarks: This is tricky if you are too specific about certain buildings in your area. Heritage buildings have survived for centuries and in all likeliness shall continue to do so. But other non-descript buildings, shopping centres and theatres are subject to realty changes in any city so if you are considering using such landmarks in your story ensure a way to do so that they do not make your story obsolete.
- Garb: Clothes maketh a man and in a novel, that could very well be true. If you are writing about ancient Greek, the toga would be the favored piece of clothing and not trousers which were disdained as fit to be worn only by barbarians. And if your novel is set in outer space the ensemble would differ accordingly.
- Dialect: A lot of research would be required and extra care would have to be taken that once your characters start speaking in the dialect of the place they belong to they don’t inadvertently fall into modern language usage.
- Culture: Social attitudes that prevailed during the duration of your novel’s setting will drive your characters to behave as they do.
Only when all the five senses are engaged in describing the setting, will then the appropriate mood of the novel be set, leading to doubling the reader’s pleasure.