Setting Descriptions in Novels Reveal Character Details

I write different genres. One style of storytelling just didn’t enable me to say everything I want to say. I’ve already released a mystery, which lets me explore crime and problem-solving skills, and a mainstream novel, which lets me explore characters and their motivations. Both of these genres let me do what interests me most—delve into relationships and family dynamics. And the novel that’s coming out this spring? It’s a paranormal romance, but the main point of the story is, once again, relationships.

Pittsburgh_skyline7That said, I get to do something in my new series that I haven’t done before. Explore Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is near and dear to my heart. My hometown is only about forty minutes away. It’s the city I spent much of my time in as I grew up. I went to college there. All my favorite sports teams play there. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s amazing. And if you haven’t, you really should go.

The things to do and see there are too numerous to count. I’ll introduce a smattering of them over the coming weeks. But today, I want to talk about the museum. Specifically, the art museum, as Pittsburgh has several museums.

If you thought museums were boring or for only student field trips and upper crust society, you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s something for everyone at a museum.

And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. If you watch international news, you’ve heard about the museum in Tunisia. I want to turn the conversation to something happier.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a Hall of Architecture, in which is housed the largest plaster cast collection in the US (third largest in the world) with almost 140 pieces. These are full-sized pieces, one of which is the largest in the world.

hall of architectureIn my novel, Bleeding Heart, the female lead studied architecture and (both in college and in her current life) spent a lot of time in the Hall of Architecture. I drew on personal experience for this part, because in college, I also spent a lot of time there. (I would now, too, but I live too far away.) Of particular interest to her is the cast of the Porch of the Maidens.

In Greece, the Erechtheion is a temple on the side of the Acropolis in Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. On this temple is a porch with six supporting columns sculpted in the shape of women—desirable and strong women—presumably holding up the stone roof as they gaze at the Parthenon. In Pittsburgh, the front four maidens are displayed in the museum, a life-sized cast depicting both the power and beauty of the feminine form.

My main character is focused on these four women, in part for their aesthetics, but also because she is one of four sisters. She is drawn to these figures, and we learn interesting facts about our lead through her study of the work.

Writers, consider your setting in your WIP. Setting descriptions in novels can be used to reveal so much about characters and plot. I’m not recommending you spend pages and pages describing a place, but a few well-placed details can not only ground your reader, but impart necessary information about the characters.

Readers, pay attention to the details writers give you about the setting in their novels. Writers don’t waste words, so if the information is in there, it’s important. Many people gloss over those setting descriptions as nothing more than purple prose, but in reality, those descriptions might hold clues to the characters that you would otherwise have missed.

If the Porch of the Maidens interests you, visit this site for more information.

If the Hall of Architecture interests you, visit this site for more information.

If Pittsburgh museums interest you, visit this site for more information.

And if Bleeding Heart interests you, visit this page on my site for more information.

I’d love to hear what you like about Pittsburgh, what’s going on in your WIP, what settings helped you better understand characters and plot in novels you’ve read. Let’s discuss it. Comment below.

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7 Comments

  1. Staci I have been to the States many times but have not had the pleasure of this city. Looking forward to the next book even though I have not had the chance yet to read Type and Cross.
    Lately I have been googling images to help me get my settings straight in my head for my scenes and write better descriptive sentences. Just looking at a picture helps me visualise it all.

  2. I completely agree with you that the setting in any book is vital. As a teenager, when I read romance novels, I visualized the fancy cities described by the authors and I longed to visit with all my heart. So far, I have achieved relocating to the UK and visiting a few European countries. Now, as an author, location is important to my characters too.

    Thanks for sharing Staci.
    Best wishes,
    Stella

    • Thanks for dropping by, Stella. And for sharing. I’ve never been to Europe, although it’s on my bucket list. Reading books set there always fascinates me. (Who am I kidding? When a setting is done well, I’m happy to visit ANYWHERE with the author and characters!)

  3. I love visiting the museums in Pittsburgh. I am fortunate to live close. When we travel, we visit local museums in those areas as well. The kids didn’t always like it, but now they probably appreciate it. We especially like the wax museums that we visited. Those would make a great scene for a novel. I like to use familiar areas for my settings. Most times, I change the names and geography to fit what I need. But familiar is easier to identify with.

  4. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I’m sure it’s an interesting city. Maybe someday!

    My WIP is set in a fictitious small town, but the setting plays an important part in the story line and in the character development.

    • I’ve done novels with fictional cities. It’s fun, because you GET to design everything. And it’s hard, because you have to design EVERYTHING.

      If you ever head to Pittsburgh, let me know. I’ll tell you what not to miss. (Or maybe I shouldn’t. That list, to me, is pretty long. I might have a hard time filtering things out.)

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