Tips on Writing, Prepping for the Novel, Part Five–Setting

Okay, in the last post in this series, I said it was the final article.  The end, finito, donezo.


Because the other day, while working on setting in my own novel, the thought occurred:  I left setting out of my series on prepping for the novel.



This from a woman who wrote her MFA thesis on place.  (What Particular Country: Landscape as Character in the Work of Flannery O'Connor and Willa Cather, was the title, in case you're interested.  It wasn't as windbaggy as it sounds.)

I love setting.  I love place.  I love coming up with cities and houses for characters to inhabit and to create businesses for them to frequent and hang out in.

So here's what I recommend for you, in terms of figuring out places for your character live and work.  You want to be able to visualize them acting with the confines of a space.  (One of the biggest mistakes I see in student work is that the characters are unroote.  There's no sense of place, and so the characters become talking heads, floating about.)

At least, you should figure out  your character's residence.  Come up with an image of her house.  Tear images out of home magazines or catalogs and put them on your vision board.  You can also draw floorplans, which can help when you're trying to navigate your character. 

Know where your character lives.  This is somewhat of a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often it is missing.  I love a sense of place in a story, and it makes a huge difference.  The Northwest, where I live, is very different from the South, where I visit often.  (We don't have tornadoes or even much in the way of thunder storms.  Blessings to all of you who may be dealing with such today.)  A mountain town is different from a big city.  These are differences that impact how your characters think, and how they move through the story.

Know what the place your character work looks like.  Is it a home office?  In a high-rise downtown?  In a charming converted old house? I just read a memoir and the author thanked the local volunteer fire department for letting her write there.  Does your character work some non-traditional place?

Does your character have a third place?  The third place is the place we go for community after home and work.  It can be a coffee shop or bar, or a restaurant.  Figure out what it is and what it looks like, and why your character likes to go there.

These four areas of setting ought to get you started.  It can make a huge difference in a book to establish a clear sense of place, so don't hesitate to take some time to do so.

Tell me.  How do you come up with locations for your stories?  Have you ever started writing a novel only to realize you really need to deal with place?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: For each character of importance, decide where they live, what their house looks like, where they work, and if they frequent a third place.  Find images for each location.  Make notes.


The rest of the posts in this series are here:

Part One–Tools

Part Two–Idea and Process

Part Three–Character

Part Four–Story


Photo by bizior.


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6 Responses to Tips on Writing, Prepping for the Novel, Part Five–Setting

  1. Don 03/02/2012 at 15:07 #

    Excellent points, and ones that I often over look, so thanks a heap.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 03/02/2012 at 15:10 #

    You’re welcome, Don. Thanks for stopping by, I so appreciate you!

  3. Jessica Baverstock 03/03/2012 at 00:55 #

    This is so true!

    Yesterday I worked on a short story, writing up my first draft. I was so intent on character and the emotions behind her thoughts that I didn’t have mental space to work out where she was. England? Italy? I kept changing my mind. Also, I couldn’t work out *when* she was. Modern day? Early 1900’s? I just couldn’t nail it down.

    Today I thought some more about it, did some research and placed her in Eyam (Derbyshire, England) in 1666. That made all the difference. The story went from nebulous to heart achingly specific very quickly.

    Place and time have a huge influence on everything from weather to everyday language. It’s very important to nail it down early.

  4. J.D. 03/03/2012 at 04:55 #

    This is a great reminder. It is so easy to blast through with hardly a mention of the character’s base. Thanks.

  5. Charlotte Dixon 03/03/2012 at 06:56 #

    Jessica, There’s something magical about place and locating your character in it. Without it, there’s so much you don’t know about your character. With it, you already know basic things. We need to remember to take full advantage of it and it sounds like you did with your story!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 03/03/2012 at 06:57 #

    Thanks, J.D. I love setting in mysteries, which can be crazy atmospheric.

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