When I visit schools, I often use my picture book When ADragon Moves In to talk about the parts of a story.
Once they name the characters, I ask them if they can describe the setting. Hands fly up immediately. “The beach!”
Which of course is a perfectly good answer.
But it’s not complete. Because the setting in a story should not only tell us the “where”, but also, the “when.” So, I press them for a little bit more.
“What time does the story take place?” I ask. “At midnight?”
“No!” They giggle. “It’s light outside, so it’s during the day.”
“Is it winter?”
“No!” More giggles. “It’s during the summer.”
“What else might the setting tell us, time-wise?” This is somewhat more difficult for the younger ones, so I prompt them. “Could this story have happened a long time ago when the dinosaurs were roaming the earth, or do you think this could have taken place this past summer?” In other words, is it historical fiction or contemporary?
In a picture book, setting is something that the illustrator portrays to the readers. When authors haven’t the luxury of an artist, such as those who write novels, it’s their responsibility to find the right words to express their vision to their readers.
As I’m finding out, it’s not easy.
Because at its best, setting can also “set” the mood. A rainy day can invoke this:
What mood will you inspire with your words today?