The importance of the setting in each scene

You have spent time considering the setting of your novel. It could be London, a small beach-side community in Florida, on a distant planet or in the Wild West. You have thought long and hard about this choice.

But now as you get ready to write the scenes that comprise your story, you also need to spend some time considering where these scenes will take place within your setting.

If you have decided to write a story set in a high school, every scene won’t take place in the hall. Just as your crime novel won’t have every scene at the police station. You need to consider where the scenes will take place and develop these places. Just as you develop or know your overall setting, you need to know these sub-settings. You need to know their location as well as a description.

If you are writing about a college, hospital or police station, you need to realize that they all have certain rituals and protocols – almost as if they are a world all their own. Research and a visit to such places can make these places come to life.

But it isn’t enough to pick out these places and know their description. Authors also need to choose the right setting for the story event. Many authors don’t spend a lot of time considering where best to have some of their scenes or go with an obvious choice. But a change of location can change the whole scene. And that change could have the power to make or break a story.

Your character can be driving in the car, eating in a restaurant or relaxing at home. And each of these settings can bring different situations and stressors for your character. The traffic is stop-and-go, their dinner gets burned or the neighbor is having a loud party.

But what if you decided to go with a different setting?

As an author, you need to think about the individual scenes in your novel, and decide the purpose of the setting. Is it to hint at the back story? Set the mood? Foreshadow? Provide tension?

Let’s say it is the beginning of the novel, and you want to establish some characteristics of the protagonist. There are many good personal settings that can reveal truths about your character – their house, their office, their car.

But if you want to add tension to the scene consider locations that might cause stress – the site of a traumatic past event, a location where they might run into their enemy, a place that triggers insecurities.

Also when deciding on locations for scenes, they need to not only fit your story, but they need to fit your character. Maybe your character needs to reflect on some news. Would a walk in the park, a ride on the bus or sitting in a noisy bar suit their personality more?

Many times, authors settle on the first idea that comes to mind. And while this may be a perfectly good, acceptable idea, if they brainstormed and did some “what if” type thinking, they might settle on something that will make their setting amazing.

Fictional vs Real Settings: How to choose  

Last week, I wrote a list of questions that can help you determine the setting of your novel. One of the first questions was do you want a real or fictional setting.

There are good reasons to go with either option as well as negatives for each one. So how do you choose which one is best?

Every situation, every story is different and will have different setting demands. Some stories only work in a fictional setting (think Lord of the Rings, the Wizard of Oz, Star Wars). And some benefit from real-world settings. And then there are some – such as romance – that could work in either location.

Here are some of the pros and cons of using fictional and real settings.

Fictional Settings

Pros –

  • You get to create a whole new city/country/world. Everything is the way you want it. You pick customs, government, the local law enforcement, where the hospital is located as well as where the forests, mountains and beaches are located.
  • If you are creating your own world, no one can tell you that your society is wrong. It is your creation and yours alone. If you want two moons or for people to live in pods, it is all up to your imagination.

Cons –

  • Creating your own city or world can be time consuming. You are starting with a blank canvas, and you need to fully develop your setting for your characters to work and live in it. The type of city or world you create will determine the reactions and behavior of your characters. Fully developing your city/world includes making a map of the area so you are consistent on where everything is located, and how long it takes to travel to those places.
  • There is no immediate connection with your reader. When you mention Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon, readers can visualize the place. In your fictional world, you will need to add more descriptions to make this place come alive for the reader and be believable.

Real Settings

Pros –

  • There is typically less research when using a real location as your setting. This is especially true if you write about a place you know well. You know how it smells, how the morning air feels, how the people move and talk. You will know the layout of the city. You won’t have to research the setting as you know it and hopefully that knowledge will come out in your writing.
  • Readers already know some of these places so you can spend less time establishing your setting. When you mention the Manhattan skyline or the Washington monument, people will know what you are talking about.
  • The history, folklore and local stories can be woven into your story and give it authenticity.

Cons –

  • You have to know the place you are writing about well especially if it is a popular place like New York or Las Vegas. If you get something wrong about where something is located, or how long it takes to travel from one place to another, then those readers who know this place will be irritated, and these inaccuracies will chip away at your novel’s authenticity. If you are writing about a well-known real place, no amount of research on the Internet will replace actually going to the location.
  • Using a real place in a fantasy setting can actually sometimes make it harder for the reader to believe what is happening. They doubt things that contradict what they believe to be true. In this case, a pure fantasy world actually might work better.

And no one said you can’t do a little of both. You can set your novel in a real city but have your protagonist live on a fictional street or subdivision. Or you can start in a real place like London and ended up at a fictional magical school. You just need to pick a setting in whatever location will work best for your story.

9 Questions to Consider When Choosing your Novel’s Setting

Last week, I gave a recap of some of my posts about writing various scenes in your novel. But before you can write a scene, you need to know where your story is set.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be Las Angeles, a farm in Iowa, the White House, on a space ship, on another world or any of a thousand different places.

Selecting the right setting can have a significant impact on your story. Choosing where a story or even a scene takes place can add suspense or excitement to a theme. Changing the location of a scene can have it going from flat to intense.

Here are some questions you might want to consider as you determine the setting of your story.

Do you want a real or fictional setting?

eiffel_tower_postcard-01verChoosing a real setting can be easier because if it is a place others already know, they will bring their own knowledge and visuals of that place with them. You mention Las Vegas or Paris and even those who have not been there can imagine the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas strip or picture the Eiffel Tower.

But a fictional setting can give you the freedom to do whatever you want. You are not restricted to established governments, customs or landmarks. You don’t have to worry about accuracy as you are the one designing your city, country, or world.

Where are your favorite places?

If you love a certain place, you probably know it well. Your passion for it will certainly spill over into your writing and help create a feeling of familiarity and realism.

What mood do you want (or need) the story to have?

If you are writing a romance novel, you might pick a bright sunny beach but that same location won’t work for your vampire novel. The setting can enhance the mood or it can give all the wrong signals.

What location would enhance your story’s theme or conflict?

If you are writing a romance, picking one of the most romantic cities in the world may work well. And if you are writing about a war, your setting most likely will be in a war zone. But if you find our love story lacking conflict, try setting it somewhere else – like in the middle of a war.

Will your story span over more than one location?

If you are writing about life in a small town, your story likely will take place just there. But other works take place in multiple locations, which means more research (or more time creating those places).

What elements must your setting have?

Certain genres might require certain things. If you are writing about a war-torn country, then your novel most likely will be set in that country. If you are writing about vampires and werewolves, you will need dark alleys and possibly a forest.

What settings are common in your genre?

If most novels in your genre are set in a common place, it is a pretty good indication that readers will expect and look forward to this setting. This doesn’t mean you can’t go against the norm and try something new but doing so may alienate some readers.

How will your setting influence the story or your characters?

Knowing your location, being on familiar ground can be good for your character, but it can also be interesting to throw them into the unknown. Also, a hostile environment can add more conflict and tension to your novel. Where things happen changes everything. Don’t always go for the usual. Consider changing up where events occur. It might make all the difference in your story.

Recap: Tips for Writing Different Scenes in your Novel

Recently, I spent a few hours making a spreadsheet of all the writing/publishing topics I have written about on my blog. Well, I have a long running list since I started in 2012 but this time I grouped each by category in an attempt to see what areas are in need of some additional advice. But while I analyze my list, I thought I would fall back on doing a recap of some of my other blog posts.

So here are some of the posts discussing various scenes in your novel…

Deciding how to begin a scene in your novel 

The goal of the beginning of a scene is to draw the reader in. It must make the reader want to read more. A few months ago, I wrote about writing the opening scene of your novel. That crucial scene is often where readers decide if they like your book or not. (Read more here)

Writing the opening scene of your novel

(Excerpt from my short story The Search) And thus begins my short story, The Search. I started with an action scene to draw the reader in. And that is the point of the beginning of your story. You want the reader to be hooked and want to keep reading. (Read more here)

Finding the perfect ending to your scene 

cliff hangerEvery scene has a beginning, middle and end. The ending moments complete the scene and should leave the reader wanting more. It should make them eager to begin the next scene. (Read more here)

Romance and sex in your non-romance novel

As a writer of fantasy novels, romance is not in the forefront of my plots. So when it comes to writing a bit of romance into the story, I begin to wonder how much to include and what exactly to do with the sex scenes if any come about. (Read more here)

Creating Fight Scenes

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or other battle taking place. With each additional book in my trilogy, there seem to be more battles.  One of my reviews for Summoned said that I wrote, “awesome fight scenes.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do have a few tricks that I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists. (Read more here)

Writing a night or low lighting scene

So I was recently writing a scene that took place in a darkened street. A battle ensues and a chase. There is a lot of hiding out and sneaking down alleys. The fact that this takes place in a world without street lamps only makes the writing more difficult as I focus on what my characters would be able to see. (Read more here)

The importance of tension in your novel

Tension is the element of a novel that evokes worry, anxiety, fear or stress for both the reader and the characters.

One way to think about it is you are raising the stakes for your character, so he or she has to work to get what he or she wants. And this shouldn’t be easy. Basically, you want to keep saying no to your characters so that the conflict appears unsolvable. The more at stake for your character, the more emotions he feels about situations and events. (Read more here)

Not too fast…not too slow – it is all about the pace

Pace is the speed in which events happen in your novel. You need to balance the pace of your writing. If your scenes drag on and on (slow pace) then you lose or bore readers. If it is too fast, you will leave your readers unsettled and it won’t be a comfortable read.

The trick is to get the balance just right. And there is no one out there that can tell you what that balance should be. (Read more here)

Using internal dialogue

One of the biggest advantages of writing a novel versus writing a movie or TV show script is that authors can use internal dialogue as a tool to tell the story.

Internal dialogue is what your character is thinking. It is not the same thing as narration, which is when the person telling the story (the narrator) talks directly to the reader.

Now there are a few rules about using internal dialogue.

  • Only use internal dialogue for the point-of-view (POV) character.

If you show the thoughts of non-POV characters, it is called head-hopping, and it is a big no-no in writing (though I do see many romance authors committing this writing sin.)

  • Only share thoughts that advance the story.

We don’t need to hear every thought in your character’s head. We just need to hear the important ones that are relevant to the plot.

Including internal dialogue is a good way to replicate real life. In our own lives, we are always thinking to ourselves – noticing things, trying to solve problems, giving ourselves pep talks or berating ourselves.

There are two ways you can include internal dialogue – indirectly or directly.

Indirect Internal Dialogue gives the reader an idea of the character’s thoughts without the exact words they are thinking. You do not need to include the tags “wondered” or “thought.”

Here is an example taken from Internal Dialogue by Marcy Kennedy:

The suffocating stench of lilies clung to his clothes. She slowly pulled away from his hug. Shivers traced over her arms. She knew that smell. Not perfume. It was too natural for that, but it also wasn’t an everyday odor. She wouldn’t expect to run into it at the grocery store. Or the bank, either. It was rare. Heavy, warm, and sad.

Her breath tripped in her throat, and she stepped back. He smelled like death, like a corpse smothered in flower arrangements at a funeral parlor. The last time she’d smelled it was standing next to her mother’s coffin, saying good-bye.

Direct Internal Dialogue gives the reader the exact words the character is thinking. It is written in first person and present tense, regardless of the person and tense of the rest of the story.

Here is above example written as direct internal dialogue (also from Marcy Kennedy’s book):

The suffocating stench of lilies clung to his clothes and hair. She slowly pulled away from his hug. Shivers traced over her arms. I know that smell. I should know that smell.

Not perfume. It was too natural for that, but it also wasn’t an everyday odor. She wouldn’t expect to run into it at the grocery store. Or the bank, either. It was rare. Heavy, warm, and sad.

Her breath tripped in her throat, and she stepped back. He smells like death, like a corpse smothered in flowers at a funeral parlor. The last time she’d smelled that scent was standing next to her mother’s coffin, saying good-bye.

Formatting your internal dialogue

There are many ways to include internal dialogue in your novel. There are two rules you need to follow.

1.) Never use quotation marks for internal dialogue.

2.) Be consistent with whatever format you choose.

For indirect internal dialogue, you are not using speech tags (he thought) or setting off the words in italics since you are not giving the exact words.

For direct internal dialogue, you can use both a speech tag or put the information in italics. (Liar, she thought.) Or you could just decide to use italics. (Where’s the money you owe me?)

Now if you write fantasy, paranormal or have people who can talk telepathically, then formatting your internal dialogue can be even trickier. Now you have people who externally speak dialogue, internal character speaking to themselves as well as two characters speaking privately in their minds.

Here is what I have done in my novels: I use quotation marks around spoken dialogue. I use italics for dialogue spoken telepathically. And I typically don’t use the direct internal dialogue and just stick with indirect.

Again, if you are consistent, your readers will easily understand what is happening.

Once you have mastered using internal dialogue, you can use it to help your readers connect with your characters. It will help the characters feel more real and most importantly the internal dialogue can advance your story.

 

 

 

 

Naming Fantasy Characters

Naming characters can be hard. Naming characters in a fantasy or sci-fi novel can be even harder.

Last week, I spent time picking out the names for the two antagonists in my latest story. (I am almost halfway through writing my first draft but haven’t needed to know their actual names until now.)

alexandria-namesMy typical way to pick a name is to peruse a baby naming book. (For general tips in naming characters, check out my original post.) The baby book I have (picked up at a used-book store) has a lot of unusual names. It worked for one antagonist’s name, but the other name was still elusive. Then I tried making up my own name.

There are several ways to do this. You can take a common word and just play around with it by changing letters until you create something you like. (This example was found on another website.)

Radio -> Tadio -> Tadia -> Tazia -> Yazia

I actually came up with the name of the dragon in my latest story when I took the kids out to lunch at McDonald’s. I was trying to think of names when I saw the Red Box outside. That became Reddex.

Or you can take a name and work on changing it around. Add extra letters, double letters, change vowels…the options are endless in making a name seem different or foreign. (Again, an example from another website.)

Galen can become Ghalen, Galeen, Galenn, Gaelen, Galan, Galeen, Gallen, Galyn and even Dagallen or D’Gallen.

For my second antagonist, I added two extra letters (Sa) before a name I found in the baby book which did create a unique name fitting a sorceress.

Here are some tip for selecting character names.

Tips

  • Avoid having too many names start with the same letter. (Tom, Todd and Tim)
  • Ditto to names that rhyme or sound similar. (Drake and Jake)
  • Make sure you say the name out loud. Anything unpronounceable or with a lot of syllables is not good.
  • If you are making up a new name, do a Google search to make sure it is not the name of a company or has some unforeseen associations or connotations.
  • Actually, run all character names through Google to make sure they do not belong to someone famous – or perhaps another well-known literary character.

However, when making up names, it is easy to get carried away and create names that no one can pronounce – sometimes even the author. If your reader stops and struggles with it every time they see it, then consider other possibilities such as changing the name, including a pronunciation guide or giving the character a nickname.

Now with Fantasy names, each author and reader have their own preferences. For some readers it takes them out of the story if the characters don’t have truly foreign names derived from the cultures of the worlds you built. Some fantasy authors, therefore, reserve the baby books for “Earth” names but develop names for different worlds and more importantly different species. (Examples from my book above show a few made up names and ones found in the baby book. I took more liberties with the last names.)

And while I agree with this to a point (I can’t imagine a dwarf named Sean), I don’t see why you can’t use some more obscure names in the baby book as names on a different planet because after all you created it.

elemental-namesI work more on the belief that I want the characters to be memorable. I do not care if you can tell where a person is born just by their name. I pick names I like and work for that character. Maybe this makes me boring or lazy as an author, but I don’t think the names of my characters are going to jar the reader out of the story.

I stuck with mostly short names for my trilogy The Elemental. (See image) No hyphenated names. Nothing with lots of syllables or consonants. No apostrophes (an overused affection of fantasy writers). Just simple, short names that were easy for readers to remember. (And there were a lot of names…this list is just a sampling.)

And for me as a reader, this would be important because I would rather enjoy the story rather than try to figure out who is who and where they come from based on the exotic spelling of their name that I have yet to figure out how to pronounce.

Tightening Dialogue in your story

I have written several times about dialogue, including why it is important and how to craft the dialogue in your story.

Dialogue can be great at bringing the reader into the story and sharing information about a character. We can learn a lot about a character in how they speak and what they say. It can help set the mood for the story. But most of all you need to make sure that the dialogue advances the story.

You do not want to fill your pages with meaningless drivel. Such as two characters greeting each other.

“Hi, Bob. How are you doing?”

“OK. I guess.”

“Nice weather, huh?”

This exchange could easily be deleted from the scene and replaced with Sally greeted Bob. Now if you want this scene to share something about the characters, you would need to make some changes.

“Hi, Bobby. How are you doing?”

Bob continued to stare at his shoes. When he spoke it was more to them than her. “Ok. I guess.”

“Nice weather, huh?”

All she got in response was a nod. Sally shot a glance at the doctor. She didn’t know what to do. All she knew is she wanted her brother back and the boy who stood before her wasn’t him.

In this case, the dialogue is being used to show the strained relationship between Bob and Sally, which is better than just telling the reader. (Sally worried about her strained relationship with Bob. He rarely said more than a word or two to her when they saw each other.) Actually both ways (a summary or a short dialogue) would work in the story depending on how you want to portray it.

cut-wordsThough people actually talk with a lot of fillers (ums and pauses), most often you will want your dialogue to be crisp and filled with tension. You want to compress your dialogue, cutting fluffy words or whole lines from the exchange.

Here is an example from another website.

Original:

“Mary, are you angry with me?” John asked.

“You’re damn straight I’m mad at you,” Mary said.

“But why? You’ve got absolutely no reason to be!”

“Oh but I do, I do. And you can see it in my face, can’t you?”

Alternative:

“You angry with me?” John asked.

“Damn straight,” Mary said.

“You got no reason to be!”

Mary felt her hands curling into fists.

As you can see the second rendition is much tighter and increases the conflict. So go through your dialogue and compress it as much as you can. Take out the adverbs. Use sentence fragments. Cut words out ruthlessly. The dialogue will improve as will your story.