The Elements Of Setting In In Your Writing
Tips from a pro to help you incorporate appropriate elements of setting to make your story come alive.
Looking at how Aziz Ansari uses elements of setting in his clever Netflix series Master Of None shows why it matters where your scenes and stories take place. In fact, the buzz around the little show that everyone is talking about may be as much the product of setting as it is chemistry between characters.
Master Of None is a program with many predecessors. The protagonist is young. He is a dreamer. He is desperately trying to figure things out as he lives life. As charming as he is, he is unlucky in love.
While the subject matter is nothing unique, Ansari utilizes a fresh approach to tell this familiar story. Take “The Dinner Party” the fifth or middle episode from season two.
It is no spoiler to reveal that Dev (Ansari’s character) has recently returned to his native New York from a cooking internship in a small Italian village. At the end of season one, he left his NYC problems behind to learn the art of making pasta by hand amid romantic locations steeped in ancient history.
And, as all love lost protagonists do, Dev also befriends Francesca while overseas and they hit it off.
But Dev and Francesca can only be friends because she has a boyfriend. In “The Dinner Party” Dev invites Francesca, who is visiting the states, to a Manhattan soiree put on by one of his new buddies, a producer for the cooking network where Dev works as a host. This is the place to be. Everyone is going to be there and the party is so posh that John Legend gets up and plays piano at the behest of his host.
Writers Ansari and Alan Yang expertly utilize what amounts to a simple apartment setting. One of Dev’s oblivious actor friends happens to be at the party too and he’s constantly interrupting their banter. When they do get to talk, Dev helps Francesca overcome her stilted use of English with loving charm. Of course, it’s a foodie party, so passionate opinions about the myriad plates of food crop up between them. No one can simply like or dislike a dish. They have to argue about it. As the evening wears on, Dev opens the debate on flavor notes in a glass of wine (which Francesca charmingly describes as tasting like shoes). When the moment is right, the flamboyant host butts in and upstages Dev’s humor.
Five obstacles to Dev’s goal of Francesca. All of them arising naturally out of the elements of setting in the episode.
“The Dinner Party” is about how two people can be so close yet remain far away from one another. In order to accomplish that goal, Ansari and Yang had to create an organic setting that provided ample interruption. What better than a dinner party? How about a dinner party put on by professional foodies?
The episode culminates in the two characters sharing a cab after the long evening. This is the episode’s (and maybe the series’) golden moment. Dev is charming as always. Francesca listens to him and laughs at his little quips but… they just cannot execute the kiss they both so plainly want from the other. There is a genuine love between them but after an evening of missing they cannot get where they need to go.
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl proves elusive. The formula is stock. Ansari is not content to write out a cliche he knows will work. Instead, he freshens the bittersweet story line using setting.
Give me a call or email me if you want to talk about how you can leverage my skills and experience to make your story come to life. It can make all the difference in the world!