What to Consider with Setting:
1. Where/When is your novel set?
2. Is the setting important to the story? If not - make it so.
3. Why do you want to write about this place? Use these reasons in your story.
Why is Setting Important?
When you read a book, you're transported to that place and time. People read in order to escape and if you're setting your book on a Greek Island or in the Outback or in London, you need your reader to feel as though they're actually there.
Mills & Boon Sexy
In this category romance line, an exotic setting is a requirement. They want the Mediterranean, the Middle East, a tropical island, somewhere other than the general American town or big city. Therefore, as a writer, you need to make your reader feel as though they're really visiting an exotic place.
Again, people read these books to experience the rural or outback lifestyle. They want to see the wide open plains, feel the sunshine, smell the manure. Why? Because it's different from what they experience in the city lifestyle. They're seeking the isolation. The adventure. Here, it's important to remember what is and isn't available in remote communities. People are more likely to make homemade food than buy biscuits and jams than they do in the cities. If there's an accident or they're sick, you can't just drive down the road to the emergency room. This can enhance the tension or conflict in your stories, so use it!
With these books, it's not only the setting you need to consider, but the time as well. What was transport like? The houses? What had and hadn't been build yet? Reading about 1920s New York was fascinating for me recently because all I could keep thinking was 'wow, the Empire State Building hasn't even been built yet!'
Sometimes people read a book because it's set in New York. Or London. Or Sydney. They want to read about a place because it fascinates them, or they want to go there, or they just love books set in a place they've been or haven't been. So you can use this too. Say you're setting a book in London. Obviously you don't want to take your reader on a tour of the city, but why not throw in some famous places to enhance your setting? Characters may stop by the gift emporium in Harrods, or be walking down Whitehall when Big Ben strikes three. Use the historic, ancient buildings and streets, the little corner pubs, Pret-a-Manger on every corner. This will enhance the authenticity of your setting and make London feel unique to your reader rather than just like any other city. Because there is no other city like London (or any other for that matter).
I've never been there! How can I write about it?
Indeed, this is very tricky business. Obviously nothing will help you know a place more than having experienced it yourself. However, there are definitely ways around that. Here are some tips:
- Google Maps is awesome! This will help you know the distances to places, how to get here and there, and you can walk around on Street View for as long as you like. But do remember, the only sense this helps you with is sight. Is there traffic? Does it smell? This is something Google Maps cannot tell you.
- Find a beta-reader. This is much easier when you have a wide network, but if you're writing about London and know someone who's been to London, then have them look at your work! You never know, they may have some very insightful tips for you.
- Storyboard with images. Use magazines. Google images. Again, this can only help you with visuals, but that's one very important factor.
- Travel blogs. You never know what you might find and can read about other people's experiences about the smells and sounds of the place you're writing about to enhance the authenticity of your descriptions.
- Use the internet! For factors such as sunrise/sunset, there are many websites that will give you this information. If you're in London in November and the sun is up past six p.m., you're going to be called out on it. The sun will be down well before five. So check your sunrise and sunsets. Also, do this for your temperatures.
- READ! Hopefully the books you read will have authentic settings, but as I stated above, people read about different places because they want to learn about them. And you want to learn about them to write your own novel. You never know what you'll pick up about setting if the author's made it important to their story.
Final Notes about Setting
- Do not info dump. Weave your setting in throughout the story.
- Let the reader experience the setting through the character's eyes. A north Queenslander will find a Canberra winter colder than a Canberra local, so they'll more likely be cold.
- Do your research
- And consider, if your story can be picked up and placed somewhere else without changing, then you've probably not used setting to your advantage.
Thank you for visiting. The next Popular Fiction Workshop will be Tension, which isn't one to be missed!
Rachel is an aspiring author of romantic fiction. She is the facilitator of the Popular Fiction Writers Group at the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre. Each month, she gathers resources to create a workshop for her fellow writers.
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