Waddup Savi Crew!
Last week, I wrote all about the importance of character. If you missed that, shame on you, what are you doing with your life? Just kidding! But I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation, right? Anyways, please feel free to catch-up here. Today I continue the “Writing Your Novel” series by talking about the second element in any great story—setting.
Setting is so vital to a story that it’s practically a character in itself. As I write this blog post, I’m exercising my senses and getting lost in a new setting of my own: vacationing at a Tobago pool-house with my family. Even though I rambled last week about character, I’m going to discuss setting a bit differently.
Instead, I will be giving you five tips to nail your setting:
Tip #1: Trouble Naming Places? Try The Thesaurus Method.
Earlier this year, a Camp Nano cabin mate of mine struggled with naming the cities in her novel draft so I suggested to her a technique that I’d been using whenever I stress to come up with names for my fictional places: dubbed the “Thesaurus Method”. Basically, it’s where I give my locations generic terms such as “Black City” or “Red Town”—which can be used as placeholders until the first draft has been completed—that way your story isn’t held ransom due to your lack of naming skills. I right-click on the generic word, check the Thesaurus and use any of synonyms that fit my story. Hence, the generic Black City will morph into the cool and mysterious Dark Metropolis.
Tip #2: Don’t Just Sight Your Site, Utilise Other Senses Too.
When discussing your setting, don’t just let readers know what the places look like—even though that’s pretty important. What does it smell like? Is your story set in a bakery? Include the smells of freshly baked bread, sweet cake and gooey icing, delectable pastries, etc. Let the readers experience the scents of hot apple pie or Danish cinnamon rolls. What does it sound like? Is your story set in a school? How about some hallway chatter, school bell rings, gym shoes squeaks on the marble floor, etc. Incorporate the other senses and let readers escape into your fictional world.
Tip #3: Research Is Not Optional, Especially For Real Settings.
Are you setting your story in a real place? Prepare to do meticulous and copious amounts of research. Granted, any setting chosen—real or fictional—will require some research. But if the place can be located on a map and the people who potentially read your novel grew up there and can pinpoint all your logistical errors, hence becoming distracted from reading your actual story, that’s not a good thing. To save yourself from getting lost in a research rabbithole, you can try my personal technique: I choose a real country or state but the neighbourhood/school/coffee shop, i.e. where most of the action is taking place, is fictional. That way, you get the best of both worlds. Problem solved.
Tip #4: When It Comes To Setting; Sprinkle, Don’t Dump.
Some writers especially newbie writers, have a tendency to introduce a character, or a few characters, followed by an info dump of setting with perhaps another info dump of narration for good measure. Info dumps—of any kind—are just plain lazy writing. Sprinkle that information throughout the novel and readers won’t be able to put your book down. Don’t let your characters have conflict-riddled dialogue in the middle of a white room or floating in mid-air. If the main character just found out her husband is having an affair with her BFF, include the fact that she hurled an expensive antique lamp towards his head mid-sentence instead of pausing the action to dump that information afterwards.
Tip #5: Don’t Skimp On Details, Create Immersive Settings.
Whether your story is character-driven or plot-driven, setting should never be an afterthought. It is, after all, a character in your story. There are particular genres—such as science fiction and fantasy—where settings/world-building is crucial to the success and longevity of the story. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is as much a story about a hobbit and a powerful, cursed ring as it is about Middle Earth. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (books vs. television series, you decide) would not be the epic adventure it is without Westeros. Admit it, you wanna live there, White Walkers and all.
The thing with setting is that it can be as extensive as an entire galaxy or as restricted as an office building. Wherever you decide to set your next great novel, just remember these three things: make it interesting, make it immersive, and make it memorable.
Tune in next week where I will be writing the final series instalment on ‘Writing Your Novel’ in preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Anyways, I’m rambling again which means it’s time to sign off… Toodles for now.
And remember, no matter where you live, take a little time to enjoy the island life!