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.

Beginning a novel recap

Today I would usually post something about writing or publishing, but it is May, which is a crazy busy month. It is the last month of school for my kids, so there are all sorts of events – school art display, reading with my first grader in class, class picnics – and on top of that we had my son’s 10th birthday party at the house.

So instead of something new, I am going to fall back on my old standby and do a recap. This time I am doing a recap of things that might be of use when beginning a novel.

The past post title is listed first and then typically the beginning of the post. To read more simple click the links.

Starting a Novel…So you have decided to write a novel. Before you sits a blank screen. For some that brings excitement at the unlimited possibilities but for others it can be intimidating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand. (To read a short intro to novel writing, click here.)

9 ways to Brainstorm Story Ideas – Many authors are teeming with story ideas, so they just need to pluck one and develop it into a novel. But newbies and even a few veteran authors sometimes falter when finding a story to write. (Click here to discover those 9 ways.)

Conflict drives your story – Every story needs some form of conflict. Without conflict there would be nothing to drive the characters and plot forward. It is the character overcoming obstacles that supply the drama, the suspense, the tension in the story. (Lists the 5 types of conflict – click here to read more.)

Choosing the Setting for your Novel – 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. (Click here to read more on settings.)

Making sure your story ideas is sound – You have a brilliant idea for a story. You can imagine the main character and even the opening scene…but when you sit down to write, you realize that is all you have. You don’t have a complete story with a structured plot and a satisfying ending. All you have is this great story idea. (To read more, click here.)

Keeping your story believable – You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?” (To read more about making your story believable, click here.)

The importance of character flaws – No one wants to read about perfect characters that always smile, act polite and eat their vegetables. No one is perfect and readers don’t expect your characters to be perfect. In other words, everyone has flaws and so should your characters. (Just one of many posts on characters. Check out my character recap here or keep reading about character flaws by clicking here.)

I hope this helps. And next week I promise to have a new post about writing…just not sure what it will be at this moment.

Starting a novel…

So you have decided to write a novel. Before you sits a blank screen. For some that brings excitement at the unlimited possibilities but for others it can be intimidating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand.

I decided to post on this topic as I just published my latest work – The Heir to Alexandria – last month, and now I too am at this point. I am ready to begin my next novel.

Cartoon Characters uid 950048Now before you start typing your novel, you will need to do some planning. I am not saying you need to figure everything out but without a plan, your characters will just meander around.

You need a direction. Your characters need a direction.

Without a goal in mind, a plot becomes just a haphazard series of events with no meaning or purpose – one that will leave the reader wondering, “What was the point of that story?” (Or perhaps you will spend additional hours editing and cutting out all those scenes that didn’t actually add to your story.)

Before you begin to write even one word, I suggest you consider working on these three topics at a minimum.

Conflict/Plot – Basically, you will need to decide what your story is about. Conflict is what drives your story. You should be able to write down the conflict in just one sentence. (For more on conflict, check out my post on the seven types of conflict.) You also need to consider whether your plot idea has what it takes to last through the length of a whole novel. Not every idea will be worthy of a full-length novel or even a short story.

Setting/World – You need to know where this story is going to take place. If it takes place in the past, you will need to research not only the location but customs and styles of that time. If it takes place in a fictional world, you will need to spend some time developing this world. Even if you are writing a story that takes place in your hometown, you need to make sure you have planned out where everything will take place and know all the details of those locations. It is knowledge of these details, whether they make it into your story or not, that will allow you to bring the reader into your character’s world.

Characters – Don’t just give your characters a name and start writing. You need to get to know them. You need to know their history, their personality quirks, you need to know what motivates them. This is a must for your main characters, but you should develop at least some basic knowledge for the supporting cast too. Again, this development of characters will show in your writing.

As I said, I am currently starting my next novel. I am working on the overall plot/conflict right now. I want a strong storyline before I develop my world or continue developing the characters I already have begun. (Right now I just have the basics of two main characters.)

All of this may seem like a lot of work. And it can be a daunting task to start a new novel. But with planning – the laying down of a foundation – you will have a better chance of following through with writing a publishable novel.

Choosing the setting for your novel

When many new authors begin writing, they focus on plot and character. While these are important, it is vital to consider the setting of your novel.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be in a room, a park, a car, a pool hall, the White House, in space, 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. To understand this concept, think of a few of your favorite scenes from novels or film. How would they change if they were set in a different location?

Man walking a dog in the park uid 1185207A tense conversation while driving in traffic on the highway would be totally different than the same scene at a park or even someone’s house. If a scene isn’t turning out the way you want, change its location and see if it works better.

So you have picked the setting for your scene, how much description of the location do you need to include? That really can depend on the purpose of the setting ( Is the scene used to add to the plot, develop characters or perhaps create suspense?) as well as your own preference.

I tend to follow the less is better when it comes to descriptions. When reading, I tend to skim over descriptions. I would rather just get to the action. Because of my preference, I try to give the reader enough description to get a general idea of the scene and then let their own imaginations take care of the rest.

Things to Avoid

Clumping – This is when a writer unloads the entire description at once. The momentum of the story grinds to a halt as the reader endures paragraph after paragraph of description.

To avoid this, first consider whether all that information is necessary to the scene. Does it enhance it? Second, spread the descriptive details throughout the scene rather than dumping it in one long section.

Over-Describing – There is no need to show off your prose skills with lengthy, elaborate descriptions. Pick a few choice details of the setting to include. If you want to show a filthy, disgusting alley, you don’t need to drag readers through every slimy puddle and throw them against the overflowing trash dumpster. Less is more – one metaphor, one adjective, one defining characteristic of a room, rather than two or three.

Real vs. Fictional Settings

One thing you might want to consider in deciding on a setting is whether you are using a real location or making up one? There are pros and cons to both decisions.

Fictional Setting – This takes more work. You will need to create the place and make it believable. Since your readers have not been there, you will have to add more descriptions. The type of world (or city) you build will determine the reactions and behavior of your characters. As a fantasy writer, I spend a lot of time developing my own fictional worlds.

Urban 0425Real Setting – In this choice, you will have to have your facts straight. You will have to know where things are located. If you say it takes so long to get from point A to point B, then you will need to make sure in reality it can happen that quickly. This is especially true if you are using a major city such as New York or Las Vegas. If you set it in real lesser-known location, most of your audience won’t know if you take some liberties with the actual descriptions.

If your setting is in a real place but a different time period, you will need to take in the behaviors of your characters to make sure they fit with the proper time period. (Example a woman’s role in society in 1920 is far different from today.)

Whether you use a real setting or a made up one, be sure to put some thought into your setting and realize how it can impact your story.

Creating your own fictitious town, island or world #atozchallenge

Many authors write about fictional places. They create their own towns or even whole islands as a place to set their stories. And for some fantasy or science fiction writers, you have to create your own world or universe.

CToday is the letter C on the A to Z challenge, and I wanted to write a little about creating your own fictional setting. Please note that I am a fantasy author so many of my references will be for a fantasy novel, but you can easily adapt them for creating your own town or island in your romance or mystery novel (or really whatever genre you are writing).

Creating my own world is one of the reasons I love being a fantasy writer. I am in control of everything – names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures, you name it.

My advice is to make sure you have your world (island, town or whatever) fully developed BEFORE you begin writing. It helps to create a map if for no other reason than for your visual reference as you write. This way if you can’t remember if the jewelry shop is three or four streets from the inn, all you have to do is refer to your map. Knowing these little details helps your reader believe that this is a real place in which your characters live.

This one has notes on it from when I wrote DESTINY.

This one has notes on it from when I wrote DESTINY.

The maps I draw are for my writing reference only. They will not be included in my book, so I don’t need to worry about making them perfect. And since they are just for me, I can make them as elaborate or as simple as I wish. You may also need to do more than one map – perhaps one of your country and one for the major city (or cities) where the action takes place.

I think it also helps to have a map so you can figure out travel time (or distance) from one location on another. You don’t want to make the mistake of having someone travel a week to the capital of your fictitious land and then spend only two days to return home. (Or for you non-fantasy writers, you don’t want someone to stop at the gym on the way home if it is all the way on the other side of the island/town and not something they would pass on their way to their house.)

Of course if you are building a world or an island, you need to consider the terrain – are you in the mountains, the forest or the hot open desert. Knowing this will also give you an idea what type of weather may happen in your story.

If creating a whole world may also need to develop a religion and populate your world with people and creatures. And don’t forget some form of government.

It can be a fun but daunting task to build a world (town/island) from scratch. Just remember to completely develop your world BEFORE you write your story. It will be better for you – and for your readers.