Elements of Fiction: Setting


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Definitions and discussion of use of setting in fiction.

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Elements of Fiction: Setting

  1. 1. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONThe Elements of FictionSetting Bruce Clary, McPherson College, McPherson, Kansas
  2. 2. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTION“Nothing happens nowhere. A scene that seems tohappen nowhere seems not to happen at all.” —Jerome Stern
  3. 3. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSettingSetting is the place and time of a story. To set thescene and suggest a mood or atmosphere for astory’s events, writers create the illusion of a solidworld in which the plot unfolds.
  4. 4. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting includes• Locale (in all its sensuous aspects)• Weather• Historical period• Season• Time of day• Span of time and pace of its passing• Social environment (manners, mores, values)
  5. 5. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONOur interest in setting is the author’s use of thepool of images provided by setting to comment oncharacter and their actions.
  6. 6. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting canParallel characters, their actions, and theirsituations—that is, be in harmony with them,signifying their situation to them and to readers
  7. 7. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting that parallels character“… half decayed veranda… near the edge of aravine…. a long field that had been seeded forclover but that had produced only a dense crop ofyellow mustard weeds…the public highway alongwhich went a wagon filled with berry pickers.… acloud of dust floated across the face of thedeparting sun.” —Anderson, “Hands”
  8. 8. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONAlso consider• Opening paragraphs of “Eveline”• The closing scenes of “Shiloh”• The final scene of “The Things They Carried”• The final scene of “Everything That Rises Must Converge”
  9. 9. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting canContrast with characters, their actions and theirsituations
  10. 10. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting that serves as contrast“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny,with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; theflowers were blossoming profusely and the grasswas richly green.…in the square, between the postoffice and the bank…it could begin at ten o’clockin the morning and still be through in time to allowthe villagers to get home for noon dinner.” —Jackson, “The Lottery”
  11. 11. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONAlso consider• The final image of the illumined portholes in “Eveline”• The calm and quiet of the morning that Ted Lavender is killed in “The Things They Carried”• The subdivisions overtaking Leroy Moffit’s hometown in “Shiloh”
  12. 12. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting canBe in conflict with characters via a direct encounterwith nature and the elements or as a concreterepresentation of social and cultural forces alignedagainst a character’s desires
  13. 13. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONSetting in conflict with characters• Near Salem, site of 1692 witchcraft trials• Set in 1960, height of Cold War• Flourescent lighting, check-board tile• “the cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal- macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads- spaghetti-soft-drinks-crackers-and cookies aisle”• Populated with “sheep” and “houseslaves”• Managed by “gray...stiff” Lengel
  14. 14. G-EN270 INTRO TO FICTIONAlso consider• The house in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”• The fifth paragraph of “Everything That Rises Must Converge”• The dust and dullness of the Hill house, along with the portrait of the priest and the “coloured print of the promises made to the Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque” in Joyce’s “Eveline.”