Sense and Setting

I sensed a disturbance in the setting. Like thousands of vanilla scented candles were suddenly snuffled out by a soft gentle breeze in a sudden whoofing sound and flash of light that left a chill in the air and the odor of burnt vanilla. The street lights of the parking lot dimmed.

The kangaroos had arrived and they meant business. “Yadho, Paduki. Yadho.”

I don’t know how they found me. I set down my mocha latte on the hood of the still warm car. My lightsaber jumped to my hand, hissing its angry buzz, as the green glow lit the ground around me.

The kangaroo with the eye patch raised his blaster. I wondered if he could sense his imminent death.

Sense and Setting Ability. My favorite Jane Austen song. Jane says. I’m done with Sergio. It’s like I have an addiction to Jane.

I like simple advice.

There are fantastic authors who talk about all six senses, or seven, or fourteen. They are fantastic. You should learn from them.

I like simple.

This was the most sensible, non-nonsensical, set of setting related sense advice I ever heard.

  • Use all five senses every five hundred words

There. Done. Just try it. Every time you write. Or don’t, but think about it. Some tricks to use –

– smelling food counts as taste.

ok, it was just one trick.

Honestly, taste is the hardest to work in.

John followed Jane into the livingroom. He could smell the receding odor from the Furry Mocha Dragon. He licked the couch. It’s smooth pleather tasted cold and plasticky with a hint on salt. He hoped it wasn’t from dog urine. He knew there was no saving the bunnies.

Don’t give characters a licking fetish just to use taste more often. Or do, if you write that kind of book. I don’t write that kind of book. At least, as far as you know. Unless you know otherwise. Hush… Shhh.

The senses ground the reader to the setting. Even if you tell them nothing else, using the senses to experience the setting, the reader will feel like they are there, even if they don’t know where there is.

When I was younger, I had a book called How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. I practiced drawing boobies. The Marvel Way. They were huge and magnificently round. And sometimes, I drew hips. But never feet. Mostly boobies.

In the book was a favorite piece of advice.


  • Exaggerate the action



It showed a picture of a character punching. It was fairly realistic.

It looked like this. See how I am standing with my fist out?

Next to it, there was a Marvel Character Punch. The character was beyond any physically possible stance and clearly had punched way hard. Like, totally way hard.

He looked like this. See how I am punching? *Kapow*

Get it?

What I am saying in every sense of the setting, is that you can’t overdo it. Well, you can, but no, you can’t. Unless that’s what you do, because if you do, stop that.

What you may think is too much is probably just enough. If you often get feedback on your writing that there’s no setting – *KAPOW* – get it?

There are two types of setting, explicit and implied. The difference is –

With explicit setting, you explicitly tell the reader where you are.

The library was silent. Jane strode through the rows of bookshelves. She could see everyone was naked. She knew she was too late. The Librarian Clothing Thief had struck again. Jane was angry with herself. Her mouth was dry. She needed a mocha latte grande.

Where was Jane? Trick question. She was in New Mexico.

With implied setting, you imply something that gives the reader a clue as to where they are.

The toast popped out of the toaster with a ding and a slightly burnt odor. Jane snatched the warm bread, slathered butter that wasn’t butter, if you can believe that, on it and jammed the whole thing into her mouth.

The reader can tell Jane was in the bathroom. Because that’s where toasters belong.

Neither is better or worse, right or wrong, unless you are doing it wrong. Then it is wrong, so don’t do that.

Just remember, each scene needs to start with a setting, either explicit or implied. If you are in fast moving action scenes, sometimes the implied is better. Except when it’s not. I expect that’s clear by now.

If you start a new scene in the same setting or location, implied setting is the quick and subtle way to remind the reader that you are in the same location.

And there you go. It’s over. My week of attempting to give writing advice has come to an end. It is time to clap. Not for a job well done, for most of it was stupid, wrong and nonsensical, but the experiment has ended.

If you have any questions, raise your hand. Remember, there are no stupid questions, just stupid people. And no stupid people read this blog, so, you and your question are very smart. Unless you’re not, but as long as you use the disclaimer, “I’m hot”, everything will be OK.

6 Responses to “Sense and Setting”

  1. mike says:

    Jane has a large mouth if she can jam an entire piece of toast into it. That was your point, right?

  2. Patrick says:

    I think that’s normal size. I’m pretty good at spacial awareness and I just shoved a whole piece of toast into my wife’s mouth as a test.

  3. mike says:

    Now I know you’re lying. Because if you HAD truly shoved an entire piece of toast into your wife’s mouth, in return she’d have shoved something into a place that would make it difficult for you to be sitting at a computer, typing.

  4. Very witty, except when it wasn’t, which was never. Great advice, except when it lost focus, which was never. I like your voice. Original.

  5. Gary Muller says:

    It made me laugh and I enjoyed the plot. I personally enjoy an “implied setting”, gets the imagination going.
    I also like Jane and the fact that she enjoys toast with her Grande Mocha Latte. My preference is espresso, or should I say expresso, from my coffee machine.

  6. Harley says:

    Awesome. I mean, this post wasn’t awesome, that was your actual comment verification word.

    Yup. That just happened.

    I’m going to jump in your pool while you’re out of town.

    ps. this was an awesome post