When it comes to writing settings I’m the kinda girl who loves a bit of metaphor! I sprinkle it over everything, and when metaphor just won’t do I might stretch to simile… maybe a bit of pathetic fallacy if I’m feeling frisky. My point is my settings are developed as far as I can conceivably develop them, but is that irritating?

Personally I have nothing against well developed settings, imagery sets my heart aflutter, but I know others prefer character driven fiction. So which is better?

I think here it depends on your genre, and a bit ironically, your characters. For example I recently wrote a post-apocalyptic short story ( yes there were zombies, don’t you roll your eyes at me) and for me it was really important to add a sense of foreboding, and to develop this idea of total destruction. With that in mind I worked hard on my lexis and on developing metaphors which supported those lexical choices. Yet I also had to understand that my main character was an 18 year old boy running for his life, which mean he probably doesn’t give a flying monkeys about the colour of the curtains in the abandoned house he’s broken into. Here setting was important, but not as important as it might have been if Noah- my 18 year old protagonist- was an 18 year old boy living in a grand house, or even if he’d just been safe. However I must admit even then I probably would have steered away from writing a piece that is wholly character driven, I know it works for some authors but I can honestly say I’ve never found a book that was character driven that I enjoyed. It’s entirely likely I’m just reading the wrong ones but until then I have no examples on which to base my own writing.

In much a similar way the gender of my protagonist has an effect on the way, and the things that are described. Not to sound sexist but lets face the facts, a girl might be slightly more aware of the colour of the Persian rug in the drawing room, she might note the style of the paintings or the type of cushions on the bed. Now that isn’t to say that a male protagonist wouldn’t, or even that a female one definitely would but a male character might be more likely to notice the specific type of car that picked him up, the stone type of the house, or main features of a room might hold more significance than the specifics of colour and pattern. Personally that’s why I prefer writing male characters, the physical and visible are so much easier to write than the randomly specific. However I’m sure it’s pretty obvious that a woman is writing it, after all some famous writer or another (pretty sure it was Virginia Wolfe, but you can’t toss names out if you can’t find the exact quote) once said that if a man wrote about a woman on a train he’d tell you how fast it was going, what kind of engine it had and where the metal from the screws came from, but a female writer would tell you where the woman was going, why she was going there and how she felt about it.

I suppose I just prefer setting driven and imagery heavy writing, don’t get me wrong characters are the single most important feature of a novel, but you can’t go wrong with an extended metaphor.

Tell me what you think, character driven or setting heavy? Or both?


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