The Missing Setting: A Loki of Asgard Novel

I'm an avid believer that dialogue is the most important part of a scene. It's how characters get from point A to point B, it showcases the personalities of these people we've created, and it draws our eyes--especially when there has been a lot of narration before it.

It's fun to get lost in dialogue, right, humans? But you know what irks me? Going through a manuscript, often my own, and losing myself in what the characters are saying. Suddenly I'm floating higher and higher like a balloon, or a nuclear warhead, and I don't have the faintest idea what I'm standing on. The setting has disappeared.

The Case of the Missing Setting

Who: Characters A and B
Where: No idea
With What: Too much dialogue and body language narrative, not enough grounding to the setting

Notes: The two suspects begin talking, and after a few paragraphs, the setting has disappeared! The reader contacted me, the god of mischief, to find the setting and bring it back.
What makes this picture interesting?
The character in this setting.

The Clues

#1: Back and forth dialogue

Notes: The first thing I did to begin my investigation was look at the page. More of the words were within quotation marks than not. I glanced at the cover of the manuscript. It's a book, not a screenplay. Could have fooled me. And if it could have fooled me, a human reader must be completely lost.

#2: The bulk of the narration is make up by speaker tags

Notes: I skimmed my finger down the page. He said. She said. He shouted. She whispered. I start to get their voices in my head, echoing around a scene fo white space. They can't be statues while they're talking, can they? The humans I know tend to multitask, fidget, and wave their arms about.

#3: The other narration is made up of body language.

Notes: Ah, there is some action. He wipes the sweat off his forehead. She crosses her legs and smirks. So they're not simply talking. Now I can picture the characters in my head as well as hear their voices, but they still only occupy white space.

#4: No setting description to be found

Notes: By the end of the scene, with the last sentence, the writer reminded me where this scene was taking place. The runaway setting has been found! But to return it to where it should be...

The Solution

#1: Setting description
Doesn't their conversation seem all the more
epic because of where it's taking place?

This one is easy. Add some description of the setting in wherever the characters are. If they're walking, what are they passing? If they're in a crowded room, what are the others doing around them? If they're by themselves, is there a TV playing in the background? A clock ticking? An oven beeping?

#2: Actions that ground characters in the setting

Instead of simply using body language, use the setting like props. A character can lean against the door frame. Look away at the cars passing them on the street. Tap their heel on the concrete floor. By making your characters interact with their environment, you make them seem more real. 

#3: Find a more interesting setting

Yes, dialogue is wonderful, but it shouldn't be the only thing capturing a reader's interest. If you aren't interested enough in your setting to explain it better, then maybe this scene should take place somewhere else. Use setting as either a tool to move the plot forward (i.e. a conversation that takes place at the scene of the crime where your character finds a clue) or to further develop your characters (i.e. the conversation takes place in a character's bedroom or house).

Case Closed

This is a common mistake, humans. I've done it before, you've done it before. It's easy to be so enraptured in what our characters are saying that we forget to paint the scene behind them. But your dialogue, characters, and scene will immediately improve if you ground everything into the setting. Trust me (the god of mischief wouldn't lead you astray, would he?).


  1. I am definitely a culprit here. But this is honestly one of the most helpful sources I've encountered for dealing with a missing setting. Thank you, Loki. *smiles sweetly at the creepy evil genius*

  2. Good advice Loki.

    That doesn't mean I trust you.

    *points finger at your face* *glares*

  3. Brilliant! Novels that are just a collection of conversations really irk me, especially when there's so much setting there that COULD be explored. Well done, Loki.

  4. You caught me red-handed. I've had people tell me plenty of times that I tend to do this sort of thing, but I've never seen a good way of fixing it. These suggestions are stellar, so don't mind me while I commit yet another crime-- stealing some of these tips and using them in my novel.


  5. This is definitely great advice...that Hemmingway ignored. Have you ever read THE SUN ALSO RISES? It's an entire novel guilty of what you're describing. And now I can finally put a finger on why I hated it. Ha!