I’ve always had a hard time getting the introduction of setting on the first page. I realize that it’s important that readers know when and where a story takes place, but how do you insert the details without being pedantic?
I’ve tried beginning with a description of the scene, such as John Steinbeck did so well in both Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. What seemed to come naturally to him is forced from me. Steinbeck was able to set the scene so well that you could almost hear the wind blowing through the trees and smell the smoke from the cook fire.
Science fiction writers have to describe a whole new world in such a way that the reader understands exactly what’s going on. Many might begin with a map, naming places and drawing boundaries in such a way that readers will feel at home as characters pass through the different areas.
Stories set in the past have to establish historical accuracy from the get-go. This includes foods, dress, language, environments and so on. It requires a great amount of research to make sure that this world depicts the way things were.
My stories tend to be contemporary in my world, which means in the San Francisco Bay Area. I do this on purpose. First of all, it’s a world I know and understand. Secondly, I don’t have to use too much imagination to place my characters in the world and set them in motion.
So how do you establish setting? I recommend looking at authors that you respect. Reread the first pages of many different books. Take notes. Imitate what you read, down to the sentence structures, replacing a noun for a noun and a verb for a verb.
Do this over and over until you feel comfortable working on your own.
This is your task. Think of a story that you want to tell. Using one of the models that you have created as a beginning, tell the story. When you are finished, go back and reread. Does the setting work? When you start reading, do you know the time period and the place or do you have to guess?
If you, the writer, don’t know, then neither will your reader. In this case, go back to your models and try again. Repeat this process until your setting works.
Have fun with this one.