Writers advised to pay special attention to setting

June 7, 2013

Author Jonis Agee speaking at the recent Story Catcher Writing Workshop and Festival at Chadron State College, said, "The setting in fiction writing actually becomes a character many times. Specific details are best and I try to write about places I know. Some writers make the mistake of trying to generalize or else they skip doing the necessary research to get to know their setting," she said.

She went on to say that she feels frustrated if she doesn’t know if the scene or dialog is taking place on Mars or in the Midwest.

“The more specific you are in your writing, the more universal it becomes and the reader can relate. Include details like the time, day, week, month, year, the weather, and if the setting is indoors or outdoors,” she said.

She shared a description of a room with black and red padded walls, three television screens, a Bible on a nightstand, a statue of the Virgin Mary and a gun in the drawer. She then asked the workshop participants to guess who occupied that room. After a few moments and no successful guesses she said that it belonged to Elvis Presley and the details illustrated his deeply conflicted personality.

Agee suggested that writers either choose to begin close by and then expand out further in distance to describe details or the reverse. Another method is to describe the features of the setting from most to least prominent. Describing the setting from left to right is most common for readers in the western hemisphere.

Another example she gave to illustrate the importance of details was, “He didn’t like his neighbors,” compared to “He tore the front porch off his house to keep the neighbors from stopping by.” The physical action involved in the latter sentence makes a stronger, more lasting impression, Agee said.

Pamela Carter Joern, an experienced workshop faculty member and accomplished Minnesota playwright with some regional ties, led a workshop as did local legend and perennial favorite Linda Hasselstrom.

CSC faculty members Dr. Matt Evertson, Dr. Robert McEwen and Dr. Rich Kenney led workshops while Poe Ballantine, a Chadron resident and author, appeared via recording since he was in New York promoting his latest non-fiction book.

About 20 participants attended the weekday sessions with additional area residents attending readings at the Bean Broker one evening.


—Tena L. Cook, Interim Marketing Coordinator