Some Thoughts on Setting


On my book blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, I often ask novelists how important setting is in their writing. And often they respond that setting is like another character. It affects the plot, the characters, the essence of the book.


Setting can be as broad as a country or a city, or as narrow as a house or a room. It can be a boarding school, or a haunted house, or a ship. If presented well, it sears itself into a reader’s mind.


Lately I’ve been playing around with the idea of writing a picture book or two. So I’ve been thinking a lot about illustrations and the role they play in a book’s setting. I was lucky to have a wonderful friend, Rob Lunsford, illustrate my middle grade novels.


So many of the books I read as a child had remarkable illustrations or cover art that shaped how I imagined the setting. Collaborations between writers and illustrators can be magical.


To root the reader in a particular setting, it’s important to get the details right. Especially if you’re presenting historical settings, as I’ve done in my books. I’ve visited the homes of the early presidents I write about, and have pored over guidebooks that include photos of each room and what furniture might have been there.


In addition, dialogue can help enhance the setting. I tend to use a lot of dialogue in my books, and I try to make the present-day characters speak in a totally different way from the historical figures. I’m currently starting the research for another middle grade novel, set in the early 1950s, and am reading novels from the period to get a sense of the slang kids would have used.


Whatever kind of reader or writer you are, there are so many ways to make a book’s setting come alive for you. Happy reading!


--Deborah Kalb


  1. I'm so intrigued by these picture books! And I had the same experience of illustrations shaping my vision of books when I was younger.

    1. Yes, I still remember so many of those illustrations today!


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