Why Knowing Your Setting is Important
by Phyl Manning
No matter where on this planet you “set” your story, someone or twenty someones among your readers will have been in that exact place at that particular season/time/year. . . . and will have taken copious notes. And that’s fine—if you’ve been there, too, and recall the details.
But if in a flit of romanticism you decide (even though you’ve never been there) to set your story in Vatican City—you need to do your homework first. Extensively. I mentioned in an article published in a Southeast Asia hotel chain periodical my personal mistrust of birds (attributable to having read Daphne DuMaurier’s novelette The Birds)—and received almost immediately following publication impassioned letters to protest my barely mentioned personal stance on the subject of these magnificent critters.
In a humorous article I’d written and published in the Bangkok Post, I got mixed up on the left turn away from an elevator to get to the Ladies Restroom at one particular section of the Bangkok Airport—and received at least two dozen notes sent through the paper to correct my error, along with several actual phone calls at work.
And the matter of reader respect works both ways, I should add. Dan Brown set an early book entitled Deception Point in the high American Arctic. I started reading the book, liked the writing style and then put on the brakes. Like most of us, I know only a few subjects in great depth. One subject I happen to know a lot about is the American Arctic. And Author Brown’s details were SO inaccurate that I finally lost faith in him permanently and gave the book away.
To sum up, I urge you to know intimately and in detail whatever place and time you are writing about. It’s not that your readers are trying to trip you up. It’s just that they “know what they know” and are offended when you reveal that YOU know not of what you write.