Using the Arts to Create Setting by Cynthia T. Toney

photo credit: cuellar via photopin cc

photo credit: cuellar via photopin cc

Perhaps you’ve written a middle-grade or young teen novel.  Or you’re reading one.

It’s natural for many of the scenes to take place at school or at someone’s home. Or maybe at a sporting event. Those places make up a big chunk of a young person’s world if he doesn’t drive.

But I love it when a story surprises me with a scene that takes place at an art fair or museum, a dance recital, concert, or movie theater (some do consider movies “art”).  Although a change of scenery can play a part in the plot, it doesn’t have to—not for me, anyway.  I simply enjoy reading and writing about young characters’ interactions in believable artsy settings where they might easily find themselves even if they don’t drive.

Opportunities abound for vivid writing to engage readers. Scene descriptions that employ sensory detail such as color, smell, sound—and often taste—make what’s going on with the characters in a scene all the more exciting. And there’s occasion for characters’ reactions to their surroundings, or use of elements in their surroundings as props, to reveal their personalities and relationships or show character growth.

Reading and writing novels that use the arts to create setting have been a fun way for me to learn about some of the arts I’m less familiar with. Whether a character visits a junkyard sculpture booth at an art fair or attends a street music performance, you may find an art-loving character a lot more interesting to read and write about.

If that character is a jock or a farm kid or a villain, even better.

Is there a novel you’ve read in which one or more of the arts added to the pleasure of reading the story?

Cynthia Toney

Cynthia Toney


5 thoughts on “Using the Arts to Create Setting by Cynthia T. Toney

  1. I can think of a few where the characters take a brief trip to a museum or some such. But after racking my brain, the only story revolving around the arts that I can really think of is “Who is Bugs Potter?” by Gordon Korman. (Highly, highly recommend him, by the way. I haven’t read any of his serious, action/adventure stories but his comedy is incomparable.) In “Who is Bugs Potter?” the finest high school musicians from across the US and Canada have been gathered in Toronto for a classical performance. The story revolves around a flute player, Adam, and his wacky drummer roommate, Bugs. And the ensuing hijinks as a reluctant Adam is dragged along after Bugs while trying to juggle rehearsals, cultural field trips, sneaking out to see the local bands & attempting to spot their favorite actress while inadvertently thwarting jewel thieves.


    • I’ve never heard of that book, but it sounds fun. As a former band geek and flute player, what’s not to like? LOL


    • I just looked up the book on Amazon, and I would have never purchased it because the covers are so horrible and boy-ish. Isn’t that funny?


      • The covers aren’t the greatest – those are 80s/90s Apple paperbacks – aimed at boys but definitely something girls can enjoy, too. I probably wouldn’t have ever read any of them if someone hadn’t gifted us a copy of “I Want to Go Home” back in the early 90s. It was the most hysterical book my siblings and I had ever read. And the author-blurb on the back explaining that he had written his first book in 7th grade really connected with us. The library didn’t have any of his other books but we found most of the Bruno & Boots series at used bookstores and they were just as ridiculous, crazy & hilarious. But for a long time, that was all we could find. (Apparently most of his books were published only in Canada for years.) Then I found The Twinkie Squad, No More Dead Dogs, Who is Bugs Potter? & Swindle. Swindle was the only one I didn’t enjoy as much. I’ve seen his action/adventure books in Walmart & Scholastic book fairs but I don’t know if I’d love them as much as his comedy. They tend to be silly and wacky with a slow, steady build until everything culminates in ridiculous, utter chaos. Also, a lot of the ones I have read tend to be more from the perspective of the “straight man” who is being dragged along by the wacky character. “I Want to Go Home” is still my favorite, though.


    • I’ve seen some of his recent books at book fairs. I picked up Schooled to give him a try. Interesting premise. Thanks for the tip, Sparks!


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