The Importance of Setting

By Brian Francis

On November 1, as part of the IFOA Delegate programme, I attended a roundtable discussion about the importance of book setting. The panel featured writer David Bergen (Leaving Tomorrow), Richard Wagamese (Medicine Walk), Christos Tsiolkas (Barracuda) and was moderated by Lewis DeSoto (The Restoration Artist).

Richard Wagamese, David Bergen, Christos Tsiolkas and Louis DeSoto

Richard Wagamese, David Bergen, Christos Tsiolkas and Louis DeSoto ©ifoa.org/Ricky Yu

One mistake that aspiring authors sometimes make is not paying close enough attention to the setting of their stories. But an evocative setting is crucial to a story’s success. After all, if you can’t create a believable world that your characters inhabit, how will readers believe in those characters?

Setting can play such an important role in your story that it can even become, as Lewis DeSoto pointed out, an extension of a character. Setting can even be a character, providing the obstacle your characters need to overcome. Think blizzards, jungles and shopping malls during holiday season.

But setting is more than the physical location. As David Bergen pointed out, setting is also how people speak, how they talk, the cars they drive. Often, it’s not about the physical setting but its nuances that contribute to creating a believable backdrop for your readers.

When it comes to researching your setting, the panel agreed that while Google comes it handy, it doesn’t provide the sensory details you need in order to truly capture your setting. You, as the writer, need to experience your settingthe smells, the landscape, its inhabitantsif you want to create a believable place that will captivate the imaginations of your readers.

Brian Francis’ most recent novel, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist. Francis is also an IFOA Delegate.

Five Questions with… Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden, author of Poison Shy, will participate in a Sunday, October 21 round table discussion called Novelists for a New Age.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Madden: I just finished reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, which is a brilliant novel. I keep hearing that the Australian television miniseries is excellent as well, but I have this silly rule in which I refuse to watch anything adapted for the screen if I really enjoyed the book.

IFOA: What do you and your Poison Shy protagonist Brandon Galloway have in common? In what ways are you different?

Madden: Brandon and I have two things in common — our ages (he’s 29, I’m 30), and our solitary natures. We differ in a number of ways. Brandon dropped out of university and ended up working in pest control; I spent seven years completing two degrees and I work part-time at a book shop. Brandon’s mother is schizophrenic; my mother is very much sane. Brandon is an only child; I’m the eldest of four. Brandon is a bit of a loser, and I’m. . .well, I guess we have that in common too.

IFOA: What’s one thing you wish someone had told you five years ago?

Madden: Don’t sunbathe naked in the hot Dominican sun.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Madden: I would put my time machine in storage, wait until my first cardiac arrest (which hopefully doesn’t kill me), then use it to travel back to my early twenties so I can be young and reckless all over again.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Madden: …both a useful promotional tool, and an assault to the very existence of privacy.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Madden: Full-bodied.