Milieu is your environment, or entire social, cultural and geographical scene.
So, you want to write a story about an isolated village built on the edge of a forest? Great! Eh … now what? After you decide on a setting, a little research goes a long way in delivering the details you need to make your setting believable. For example, your village is nestled on a plateau bordering the edge of a boreal, or taiga forest. A wide meandering creek runs out of the forest from the melting glaciers of distant mountains, wending its way past the village. Okay, great. What type of trees are in your forest? Flora and fauna? Who lives in this forest? Who comes out at night to hunt? Who is friend and who is foe? How do the villagers make a living? Start by making lists, then fill in the details.
Notes I might make when writing this story:
Trees: Birch – The villagers tap these trees and gather the sap for wine and syrup.
Blue Spruce – full of cones so the forest has a lot of squirrels.
Cottonwood trees along the stream’s edge (the sound of the wind blowing through their waxy leaves was like the hush, hush, sweet child, ballad the village mothers sang to their babes).
Tree Life: Tree frogs, flying squirrels, woodpeckers, ravens and blue jays.
Flora and Fauna: Along the forest edge in the sunlight out in the meadow: several varieties of wild herbs, daisies, sunflowers, buttercups, tall grasses, flying insects of all sorts, dragonflies, butterflies, bees, and swallows diving to catch the insects. Red hawks circle over the open field hunting for mice.
Along the creek’s edge in the shade – moss, ferns, cattails, and Calypso orchids. Creek life: trout fry, leopard frogs, tadpoles, turtles, muskrat, crayfish, raccoons to eat the crayfish, salamanders, kingfishers around the deep pools diving to catch brook trout, foxes and garter snakes. Other Forest Denizen: Wolves, deer, elk, squirrels, mice, fox, and porcupine. (Nocturnal) Owls, bats and bobcats.
After determining some facts (true or false) about your setting, connect these details to the cultural lives of your characters. For example, we could assume the village economy is based on the wild herbs and birch wine and syrup they harvest and sell at the market. This market is where artisans and farmers from the entire region come to sell their wares – a perfect opportunity for young people to meet, new romance to begin, established families to negotiate business and travelers dressed in weird clothes to cause gossip.
I hope this article helps you develop your forest setting. Drop by Facebook and say hello. I would love to hear how your story turns out.