Recommended Reading: Setting

Alaskan Landscape.

Photo by flickr user blmiers2

One of my favorite parts of being a librarian is reader’s advisory, or recommending books (or other media) to patrons. And one of my favorite parts of being a writer (other than actually writing) is studying other writers’ work. I’ve decided to combine these two favorites with a series of recommended reading for writers, focusing on different elements of craft and the books/authors that I think make good use of those elements.

I’m kicking the series off with setting. Esteemed reader’s advisor Nancy Pearl says that readers who prefer rich settings often gravitate toward fantasy, science fiction, and western novels. In all of these genres, the setting is essential to the story itself, so if you’re looking for examples of great settings, these are good places to start. Moving beyond the general recommendations, here are a few books and authors I’ve looked to for help enhancing the settings of my own work.

Ready Player One. At the top of my setting list is Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One. Holy cow, if there were ever a book that screamed “world building,” this is it. There are so many layers to the setting of this book, from the “real world” of the near future to the many virtual planets of the OASIS to the Gunter subculture to the crumbling society at large. I could go on and on, but Cline has a way of expertly weaving all of these layers together to create a vibrant, believable setting and culture. His explanations of various facets of the real world and the OASIS come in manageable doses and only when we need them, and their arrival through the narrator’s lens makes them even more striking.

If gaming isn’t your thing, I find epic fantasies great studies for setting. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind series are both excellent. Or, if you’re not up for such a big time commitment, a standalone high or urban fantasy like Neil Gaiman’s  Stardust or Neverwhere will provide a rich setting, too.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. For a more realistic setting, Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a great portrayal of Seattle, jazz, and the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s. A lot of what makes this setting work so well is the narrator’s way of describing it from his view as a Chinese boy who befriends a Japanese girl at an otherwise-all-white school.

These are just a few books to get you started. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention M.T. Anderson’s Feed, pretty much anything by Scott Westerfeld, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. (Any series with its own theme park that puts visitors in the middle of its made-up world deserves a nod in a post on setting.)

What books would you recommend for an in-depth look at setting?


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