Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Setting & Description as Secret Characters in Your Story

By Elizabeth MS Flynn w/a Eilis Flynn

What lingers in your mind when you finish a great story? Sometimes it’s the hero or the heroine. Sometimes it’s the crisp, crackling dialogue that made you laugh out loud (sometimes in public, embarrassingly enough) or bawl (also sometimes in public, definitely embarrassingly enough). And sometimes, whether you realize it or not, it could even be—gasp!—the setting.

Every part of a story can be memorable and stick in the minds of the reader. Setting is an unappreciated factor in so many stories, but without it, truly memorable stories could fall flat. Setting and description can be very, very memorable. Every story has a setting, and it’s a character in its own right. Setting and its description has a voice of its own, and it needs to be heard. Believe it or not, the setting of your story should be as well-defined as any of your human characters, and certainly something that you remember after you finish the work, writing it or reading it. How can you make the settings of your stories so memorable that it lingers in your readers’ minds as much as the hero and the heroine and the dialogue?

Think of weather, rain as miserable as mud or snow soft and deadly. Think of climate, always hot and sticky and humid. Think of seasons, whether summer or spring. Think of the lamppost always shining in the eternal snow in Narnia at the beginning of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (where it’s always winter but never Christmas). All of it comes together to shape your story and sticks in your imagination.

What’ s an example of a memorable settings? Manderley, of course. The great estate that is the center of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is a wonderfully memorable place, filled with wealth and sumptuousness and creepy servants who have it out for someone whom they think wants to replace their favored mistress. Will we ever see Manderley itself, for real? No (although there are various houses that are thought to be the basis of the house). Will we ever see Thornfield Hall, the home of Edward Rochester, the hero of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre? No, but we’ll always look up at great houses and the small window at the top, and remember the attic forever holding a crazy lady locked up there. We’ll always remember, in our mind’s eye, what the house must have looked like in its heyday, and what it looked like after it was set on fire, then in smoldering ruins.

Your setting can stay in the imagination of the reader for as long as he or she remembers the characters or the story. What’s the secret? Come to my online workshop at until May 17 and find out how to make your settings and descriptions as haunting as the authors we examine!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at and reached at If you’re curious about her books, check out In any case, she can be reached at


  1. I'm with you. I think the setting of Hunger Games is what I remember most about the story.

  2. As it so happens, I use various setting descriptions in Hunger Games as examples. Spare yet effective writing.