Setting is important, not just for movies and novels but in all our lives. It affects our moods, sense of safety and comfort levels. We associate settings with sad and happy occasions, particular friends, and significant events, and these surroundings often affect our actions. All of us can think of places we gravitate toward and places we prefer to stay away from based on our experiences. When our neighborhood lost electricity for seven nights in December a few years ago, we invited ourselves to other people’s houses for dinner and a shower, not our usual behavior. Since two people I loved stayed in hospitals before they died this past summer, these are now settings I prefer to avoid.
Do you have a place where you feel comfortable and safe, somewhere you like to go to get away from people and noise, or be cheered up by a crowd? Is there a store, restaurant or hotel where you feel special? My walking partner and I talked about setting today after I told her I had eaten lunch with friends at an elegant hotel in Seattle where everyone, including children, had dressed up. (Given that this is the Northwest, where jeans are standard wear everywhere, “dressed up” means something different from “dressed up” in New York.) Unlike most restaurants, here the four of us could talk in a normal voice and be heard. The atmosphere was peaceful and the food tasty. We had such a good time we decided on this hotel as the setting for future holiday meals.
I told my fellow walker that my husband and I didn’t travel often to other settings because we loved our house and didn’t feel like we needed to leave. She had done some remodeling and said she was starting to feel the same way. I have worked on my novel in one particular room. It’s not well furnished or decorated, but it’s far away from the refrigerator, the cat that always wants a snack, and the telephone. It has an old rocking chair that belonged to my husband’s grandfather and a lap blanket a friend sewed years ago for my mother. I can keep distractions at bay and feel comfortable sitting for long periods. For me it’s a comfort zone.
My husband and I often travel to Eastern Washington in winters for cross-country skiing. We stay in a cabin on a river, where the only sights from our porch are browsing deer and the occasional merganser duck. We go outside to ski, buy groceries and visit the local bookstore, but otherwise we settle down by the pot belly stove and read for hours on end. It’s the perfect setting for doing almost nothing.
Having recognized how important setting is in my life, I felt a little sheepish this week, when the first instructor’s first comment on a writing assignment said, “Where is this scene taking place? You need setting here.”