Creative Writing Workshop: Setting and the Short Story

Picture of the sea framed by cliffs at Ring, County Waterford
Setting the scene . . . but how important is location in a short story?

As my Carrick-on-Suir, Creative Writing Workshop: ‘Story Wise’ draws near I find myself contemplating the key elements of a Short Story.  In particular, I’ve been considering the importance of setting.  When I first started writing fiction I didn’t spend much time on setting.  I felt that the characters and the story itself took precedence and if they were strong they could be anywhere.  I still believe this to an extent, and in short fiction the writer does have to prioritise.  However, I have noticed that as my short stories have grown in number I have begun to pay more attention to location and often specify an area of the world where the action is taking place.

Previous to this I would still have spent a great deal of time describing my character’s surroundings.  I believe in vivid imagery and would draw on my own experience of natural beauty to colour my words.  I would often have a definite place set in my own mind but wanted to leave the reader with the freedom to use their imagination.  So what has changed and which approach works best?

I believe moving from Wales to Ireland nearly four years ago has had a significant influence on my mindset.  Changing my own location has made me more aware of the importance of place.  The fact that my location is rural has also made an impact on me as a person and as a writer.  The countryside is quiet, yet so visually demanding.  The lack of hustle and bustle allows time to look around and absorb the energy of my surroundings.  Then there’s the wildlife.  Before moving to Ireland I had never seen a stoat or a pine marten.  I had never seen a pheasant or noticed how completely Swallows can become a part of your space.  Neither did I realise how much I would miss their burbling chatter when they departed for foreign skys.

As well as the variations in natural landscape, I find myself comparing the Welsh and Irish dialects.  On a visit home I cherish phrases like ‘lovely girl’ ‘by yer’ and ‘where to?’ whereas I have become accustomed to Irish sayings such as ‘sure’ ‘so’ and ‘what’s he/she after doing now?’  It’s amazing how having the opportunity to compare different dialects makes local expressions so precious and can only be a strength in writing.

It’s interesting how genre can also be a factor in determining the importance of place.  Crime fiction for example, tends to be led by setting and the countryside is often used as a dramatic background.  I presume this is due to the sheer space, the lack of audience and the capacity for hidden crime and easy escape.  In contrast, many chick lit novels are set in the town and although location may be alluded to it is usually not central to the action.

I’ve come to the conclusion that setting is a tool and how much it is emphasised depends on the type of story being told.  In my own work, my short story ‘Athena‘ is an example of a book containing little detail of place.  I feel this works because the central character lives a reclusive existence, barely leaving the comfort of her own home.  Keeping her exact location a little shady allows for an intense study of the way she lives her life, her feeling of being trapped and her sense of isolation.

If you would like to know more about writing a short story and are based in Ireland you may be interested in attending Creative Writing Workshop: Story Wise at the Nano Nagle Centre, Carrick-on-Suir this October.  Click here for more details.  Please note, you should register your interest by emailing by this Friday September 28th.

Picture: The Sea at Ring, County Waterford, Copyright K. S. Moore 2012.

Creative Writing Workshop: Setting and the Short Story.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *