#MondayBlogs: The Importance of Setting in a Novel

2 Feb


Monday has reached us again, and today brings us another guest blogger. Today, I am pleased to announce Tara Mayoros, author of Broken Smiles. This well-traveled writer has written a wonderful post about the importance of setting in a novel, and her writing tips are sure to stay with us the next time we pick a location for our stories.

The Importance of Setting in a Novel 

Write what you know. How many times have I heard that? Oh man, probably at every conference I have ever gone to, multiple times.

know setting.

Long before I was ever an author, I would surround myself in settings which filled my soul with wonder. I would cover my limbs and face with autumn leaves to feel the smell. I would spend many nights under the stars, listening to the scurrying of little animals and the sounds of wind applauding my appreciation through the trees. The stillness would settle in my heart and when I began to bring pen and paper with me to different settings, my world became magical.

To me, setting should breathe like a character. It isn’t just streets, buildings, and names of towns — it is the lifeblood which weaves your characters and plot together. It shouldn’t be tacked in, but rather an integral part of the story. It grounds the reader.

It should also ground the author. The author carries the responsibility to bring details that are often overlooked. Especially, in my opinion, when it comes to nature.


Pilot and Index Peak – Cooke City, Montana

Recently, I returned from a long trip through Montana and Yellowstone. I have visited many times and even lived there at one point. Those wild, rustic places are some of my favorite spots in the world and I felt the heavy burden to show my love for it in one of my novels. I hadn’t been up there for over a dozen years and I started creating the setting for my novel through memory. When I had finished my book, I was satisfied. But something tugged at me to visit those places again. Either my wild heart, or the pull to immerse myself in those mountains.

Arming myself with laptop, pens and journals, I was ready to take my story to battle and add details that were missing and change a few things. I was surprised when I came home and realized that I had never even written one word when I had surrounded myself in the nature I so dearly love. Why? It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means, but looking back, my body and soul yearned to feel the lifeblood of the setting. I didn’t need to muddle it with words, I needed to experience it and let the setting wash through me.

In this world where setting and placement are so often overlooked or replaced with handheld devices that capture our attention, authors need to work harder to ground the reader. We need to scream at our readers to notice detail. It breaks my heart every time I see someone surrounded by stunning scenery and their faces are aglow with the pale light of a handheld device.

Here are a few ways you can bring your setting to life in your novel, followed by some examples I have written.

*Be specific – it isn’t only a flower, describe the details. example: The vibrant purple petals stretched beneath an indigo hat which drooped over a white lip and a yellow bearded pouch.(Calypso Orchid)

*Sprinkle in similes and metaphors to connect – example: His temper was like a loose cannon. It could explode at any given time and I would be the set target.

*Use the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, feel – This one is huge! I love to incorporate the senses. – example: My stomach was empty, which was good, because the smell hit me, and I heaved once more against the vacant remains of my belly. The putrid, decaying stench of rotten flesh made my eyes water.

*Show, don’t tell – instead of stating that its raining, describe the dripping trees, the puddles gathering in the crevices of rock, and the pattering on tin resembling tinkling bells.

Here is an excerpt from my novel contemporary clean romance Broken Smiles. The setting is in China, another one of my favorite places. I hope you can feel my love for it as you read my words.

Here and there rocks were covered with ancient moss. Orchids blossomed spontaneously upon the trees. Vines hung like ropes and twine, twisting upon the rubber and the banyan trees. Bamboo stood proudly against the moonlight, casting shadows that had been the same for thousands of years. Away from big city lights and pollution, it was easy to be transported back in time to ancient China. This land had managed to remain untouched throughout the different emperors and dynasties. As they walked, they passed a small ancient graveyard built against the hillside. The limestone shrines glowed mysteriously in the moonlight. Chinese characters and mini-sculptures were carved in the pale rock. Incense smoldered on the top of an old gravestone…

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara Mayoros


As a child, Tara Mayoros moved to Asia with her family where her love of different cultures and travel began. In college she satisfied her wanderlust by moving back to China, filling her head with countless stories, and occasionally writing them down.

Years, marriage, children and many adventures later, she picked up her dusty pen and paper (or laptop) and realized that writing took her to different worlds and gave her the experiences that she yearned for. As an author, artist, baker, music teacher, gardener, and nature lover – she sees the beauty in the process, and the miracle, of creation. The Rocky Mountains are her home and they call to her whenever she finds herself in need of inspiration.

Connect with her: Website, FacebookAmazon, Twitter.

Want to be a guest blogger? Wonderful! I am accepting guest posts that focus on reading and writing. You are allowed a book link in the post as well as in your bio. A picture and a bio are encouraged. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!


18 Responses to “#MondayBlogs: The Importance of Setting in a Novel”

  1. alexlaybourne February 2, 2015 at 1:14 am #

    The setting is a vital component to any story, be it a novel, novella, or a short. I agree that it is a grounding point for the reader, and I really like how you picked up on it being just as important to the writer.

    There is always talk about plotting versus just writing on the flow of idea, and while I flit between both depending on the book being written, the settings are often set, You know where the book is taking place, even if you don’t know what is going to happen.

    Knowing your setting, understanding it, actually living it inside you head, will certainly keep your fiction on track and have that extra hook needed to keep a reader’s attention.

    Personally, I would sooner forgive a weak character descritpion over a weak setting.

    • taramayoros February 2, 2015 at 11:07 am #

      Yes! I would also forgive a weak setting over a weak character. Be it a fantasy or non-fiction, setting grounds both the reader and author 🙂

  2. Seafarrwide February 2, 2015 at 3:47 am #

    That was wonderful, you express so well

  3. Charles Yallowitz February 2, 2015 at 4:52 am #

    Love the idea of setting breathing like a character. Building the stage for my stories is always one of my favorite parts. Excellent post.

  4. Charles Yallowitz February 2, 2015 at 4:52 am #

    Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere.

    • taramayoros February 2, 2015 at 11:09 am #

      Thank you for your kind words and thank you for re-blogging on your site, which I will be checking out soon 🙂

  5. The Story Reading Ape February 2, 2015 at 5:11 am #

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    Shannon has a great Monday series for authors 😀

    • taramayoros February 2, 2015 at 11:10 am #

      Thank you for re-blogging. I like the name of your blog and will be checking it out soon!

  6. Mishka Jenkins February 2, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    You’re totally right, the setting should feel as alive as the characters do! Great post 🙂

  7. novembernotebook February 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    I love this line: “setting should breathe like a character.” I’ve always envied how strong Patrick Rothfuss’s settings are, as well as Neil Gaiman’s.

    • taramayoros February 4, 2015 at 10:50 pm #

      Oh Neil Gaiman! How I love his settings. Another author I love that does a great job with setting is Juliette Marillier.

  8. theowllady February 3, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.


  1. Keeping it Real with Joke Culture | Official Site of Alex Laybourne - Author - February 4, 2015

    […] When writing, there are several things that are important. The setting is a prime example. Your locations need to be real. They need to catch the attention of the reader and pull them into the world you are creating. You can read a great post on this over at Shannon Thompson’s blog. […]

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