One of my favorite things about being a writer is the way I can fall into a story. The point where I stop seeing the scenes as if watching a movie and I start walking around on the set, able to see, feel, smell, taste, and touch the setting around me. The real world disappears in those moments.
Photo Credit: Lisa Hall-Wilson (Flickr)
Still, there are settings which I tend to avoid, out of fear or intimidation. My adult WiP, Dark Intent is set in early 1900s. Originally, it was set in the 1800s, but I’m not a history buff. I don’t read much historical fiction either, and therefore found working with that timeframe intimidating. There are so many things I don’t know. Would my main character be able to see her reflection in a window? Could she drink from a water hose? When exactly were blue jeans invented? Could she even wear pants? (Big NO on that one). The early 1900s are worked better, because it was easier to research and I was even able to find images of clothing my characters might wear. To spend more time writing and less time researching, I found a few period details to sprinkle in to help set the scene.
As far as specific settings and fear is concerned, I will most likely never ever ever write a scene that takes place on a bridge. If my characters ever try to drag me onto one, they’ll have to do so with me kicking and screaming. Even as I type this, I hear them conspiring about a way to work one into a story.
Do you have a setting that you avoid writing out of intimidation or fear?
Want to know how my critique partners answered this question? See Dawn’s response here and Leatrice’s is answer coming soon.
Where story settings are concerned writers have options: real, fake, or both. I’ve used them all. My short story ZOMBIE KIBOSH CREW is strategically based in St. Louis, MO. I used Google Maps to help me get a satellite view and when I zoomed in close enough, it gave a virtual point of view. It’s awesome. Give it a try. My WiP BLINK is based on Golden, CO with a major fictional spin to it. The setting in my debut novel EDGE OF TRUTH is set in 2248. I used a real calendar (cause I’m a geek like that), but created the setting through world building.
Of the three, I find faking it a.k.a. world building the most difficult, yet fun and rewarding.
How about you? Please take my poll and/or leave a comment to let me know what kind of settings you like to use and why.
Rich world building is one of the things I enjoy most about reading paranormal books, and I believe this applies to all genres, as well as literary fiction. I love when authors create a place so well I’m tempted to add it to my Place To Visit list, but then remember it’s only a fantasy world. I mentioned before that I read like a writer (here), and I’ve been paying extra attention to how authors create worlds.
Here are a few things which draw me in:
Photo by Denise (dwyant160 on Flickr)
Consistency. Once the author establishes rules for how the world works, they serve as guidelines for what to expect later. For example, in HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, she established the rules that govern Panem and the twelve outlying districts. Readers know each district has to send a boy and girl to participate in the Games and they know the dismal outcome. While reading the book, I kept thinking, “There’s no way…” yet Collins stayed true to her world’s rules and beloved characters died.
Believable paranormal elements. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but hear me out. Even though paranormal writers dally in the supernatural, there are still certain things readers of the genre expect. Ghosts are incorporeal. Zombies can’t talk. Vampires burn in sunlight. Valkyrie can’t resist shiny objects. Whenever writers deviate from these standards, they’re tasked with making it believable (and consistent). It can be done. I’m sure we can all think of books where paranormal creatures break traditional expectations.
Rich setting/characters. One of my favorite things about Kresley Cole (*admits author crush*) is how real her settings are. She incorporates all five senses (sound, taste, smell, touch, and sight) into her scenes in a well-balanced way, so the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed with description. Cole also has strong heroines and heroes whose personalities stay consistent (decisive, not wishy washy). Her characters only undergo personality change after major trials and tribulations.
Normal Things. This goes hand in hand with setting. These are the things we all experience or can relate to which make a setting real. It’s the sound of a crumpled brown paper towel, the hum of a vending machine, the chill of a hospital, the sight of sunlight filtering through window blinds, the delicious taste of chocolate, etc. These everyday things help readers feel closer to a story.
What additional elements do you include in your world building? What draws you to the type of books you like to read?
Focus on writing everyday, no excuses because even five minutes of active writing will increase the word count of a book. This may require rising before the sun, or burning the midnight oil, but if that’s what it takes to get hands on the keyboard or pencil/pen to paper, then commit to it. If it’s too difficult to get in touch with the muse early in the morning or late at night, sketch out the scene (or tell) what’s supposed to happen and use it as a guideline to flesh it out (or show) as much as possible during a lunch break, during the train/taxi ride home, or whenever time is available. If it’s a too busy family life that interrupts writing time, create a writing schedule, bargain if necessary so that each partner gets equal free time, even if it’s only half an hour.
Photo by Frank Selmo (frankselmo on Flickr)
When that free time is available, whether or not the muse is talking, make sure each scene has focus. These are the things I aim to include into each scene:
Conflict. Gotta have it, otherwise why are people reading the book. The main character (MC) has to have a goal from the very first page. Something is bound to stand in the way. I invite Murphy’s Law to stomp all over my characters life. I love when I’m reading a book and the MC gets backed into a corner from which I can see no way out, yet I know they get out cause there’s still 72 more pages left. In each scene, I focus on making my MC work toward her goal, ensuring the things she need don’t happen to fall into her lap, and amping up the conflict.
Character. In order for readers to care about said MC getting out the corner, they need to care about said character(s). I try to fall into my characters. Instead of observing the scene unfold as if watching it on the big screen, I imagine myself in the scene and employ all the senses to make the characters’ reaction to the setting real. I focus on staying in the MC’s POV throughout the scene, and if the POV changes, I add an extra space and stay in the other character’s POV for the remainder of the chapter. Continuous head hopping can be disconcerting.
Setting. Have a clear understanding of when and where the story takes place, but don’t try to include everything. Focus on a few select things which breathe life into the setting. There’s always time to build in more elements of the environment in the next scene.
Focus on the endgame. Figure out the common word expectations for the genre/target audience because it’ll be hard to sell a low word count sci-fi novel or a high word count realistic middle grade novel.
Last, focus on having fun and enjoying your characters and the world you’ve built for them.
What do you focus on when writing? What elements do you try to work into your scenes? How do you find time to write?
For a humorous take on How Not To Write A Novel, check out my crit partner’s post here.