What's Most Important to You?,  Writing

What’s Most Important to You? (3)

Last week I made a couple of posts about what is important to you in stories, as a reader and/or writer. I broadened and narrowed the field into four general aspects of stories: Writing, Plot, Setting, and Characters.

And now we’ve come to the aspect that is, for me, the least important. Setting.

Some people absolutely have to have great settings. They need a vivid world, detailed description, and a firm sense of being grounded in the placement of the story. And that’s great! But that’s not me.

I, honestly, don’t really care about setting. I mean, I don’t think I’d enjoy a story about people sitting in nothing with absolutely no description whatsoever, but generally setting is not that big of a deal to me. Don’t get me wrong…I of course have my favourite settings (places by the ocean, forests, English countrysides, basically anywhere else in Europe, gothic-esque locations, lush fantastic worlds…), and I have my least favourites (urban centres, industrial towns…). But setting does not make or break a story for me.

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I like made up settings, usually. I find that with real settings I often feel like I’m not sure whether the author is telling the truth about the locations or not, which always kind of annoys me (they might stick a fake restaurant into a real city, and they might use totally real locations, and for some reason not knowing annoys me, and unless I am drastically in love with the story I’m not going to bother looking it up!).

If the descriptions are too detailed and I’ve never been to the place before, I get bored. And when the descriptions are of somewhere I do know, I find it weird to read about (there is a book that starts in a real school that I actually attended, and I could barely make it through that part of the story, because it felt awkward and, I dunno, lame? to be reading about a place I knew.)

But even with made up places, I tend to side on less-is-more in descriptions of setting. I make a mental picture as soon as I have a general concept of where my characters are. And that mental picture isn’t likely to go away because the author has described something different. Occasionally I see what is written, but usually I don’t, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I like having my own idea of how the world looks.

So what about you? Do you like detailed descriptions? Do you have certain settings that are must-haves or no-gos? Or do you prefer simple descriptions that leave you to do some of the guesswork, while the story moves on to other things?


  • Deshipley

    No long setting descriptions in my reading material, please! It would be a waste of everyone's time; my imagination's no good at visualizing more than hazy impressions of scenery. Just lay down the basics on a need-to-know basis, and that will be plenty for me. The best way to show me what's there and what's important is to have the characters interact with it while they go about their business. (Y'wanna tell me there's a couch? Have Mike sit on it. That sort of deal.) While some like to treat a place like a character in its own right, I've never seen it that way. A setting can be cool and all, but I view it as only a backdrop, not the story itself.

  • Cathrina Constantine

    If you've read any of J. R. Tolkien's novels, you will be overwhelmed with his descriptive setting. He basically describes every blade of grass and knoll. And he's a classic writer. However, times change. People want a fast intriguing story. I love beautiful description to a point. If there happens to be too much, I tend to brush over it.

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