Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fiction Series: Determine Your Setting

Most of my fiction - novels, short stories, and screenplays - start with location, because places intrigue and inspire me.

One question I encounter often is: should I set my story somewhere real, or create a fictional story world?

The best answer for that question is: It depends.

If you write sci-fi or fantasy, most likely your story world will be fictional and you will need to create it from top to bottom, inside and out.

If you write most any other genre, the choice is yours to make. Here are some tips to help you decide which route is best for you:

1) Consider the amount of research you'll need to know your setting(s). Are you familiar with the territory? If not, are you able to travel to the location to scope it out? Or do you have the research skills to learn specifics about the area? If you can't travel there, be sure to research more than just facts and figures - you'll need to study demographics, terrain, weather, language, customs, and more. Is this setting somewhere you want to spend time as you write?

Tip: Do more than a simple search for potential locations. Also check places like TripAdvisor, Instagram, and Twitter for things to do in the area, photos, annual events, and overall vibe of the place. Don't forget maps - if you use Google maps, you can see street views for many locations. Check the visitor's bureau or Chamber of Commerce for the town to request physical maps and information, too.

2) Do your story, plot, characters "fit" the setting? For example, if your art-theft-mystery involves pricey galleries, and your suspects hob-nob with the rich and famous, the story itself would probably seem out of place in rural mid-America, but would fit right at home in New York City. Your setting needs to fit the overall tone and mood of your story, too. Urban stories won't fit the same setting as a cozy mystery.

Tip: Check current events for the area you've set your story. Would your character be a misfit (intentional or accidental) at some of these events?

3) If setting is to serve as a character in your novel, would it be helpful to create a fictional town and plot it into the map, in an area you're familiar with, and that will be familiar to readers? For example, you create the town of Peaceland, with all its quirks and quibbles, and plot it on the map in the middle of Texas, close enough to Dallas, Austin, and Abilene that your characters can mention one of them in passing and the reader will instantly be transported to that setting.

Tip: Think of giving your character a day off to explore one of the nearby towns. What would your character be doing there? Where would your character eat? What would your character explore? If this is an overnight trip, where would the character stay?

4) If your story takes place in more than one city, consider travel logistics of getting characters from place to place. You'll need to factor travel time into your overall timeline.

Tip: Create a calendar for your story's timeline.

5) How does this setting serve your overall story and its characters? Why this setting for these characters? Why not somewhere else? Make the setting relevant to the characters and to the story, so that when the book is done, a reader can honestly feel it couldn't have happened elsewhere.

Just remember as you write that your readers will all be different - some may know the area well, and some will be totally unfamiliar. If you use a real place, make sure you get the facts right, because readers will catch mistakes. If you use a fictional place, be sure to layer in enough details that the place becomes real in a reader's mind. (The key is layering, not dumping loads of information.)


Do locations inspire you? What kinds of settings do you most like to read? Do you like writing the same kinds of settings or different ones?


More from our Fiction Series:

The Road to NANOWRIMO


Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Recent articles:

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice
I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
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