Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. Let’s talk about settings.
We’ve all heard the adage, “Write what you know.” Most of us assume our book should be something we’re familiar with. If you have a medical background, you might write medical thrillers. Former military or a military spouse? Maybe you want to write military fiction.
Writing what we know can also apply to settings. I grew up in Texas, so it was only natural to set my first novel in a fictitious Texas town. I know which plants are native to this area and what birds and animals live here. I’m familiar with the landscape and geographical features. I know area customs.
It’s easy to choose a place we’re familiar with. But if you’re like me, you don’t want all your books set in the same location. You may choose another state or even a different country. Even if you create a fictitious town, you still want the setting to be realistic. Here are a few tips on how you can do that.
Familiarize yourself with the area. The best way is to visit. Look around. Observe. Take photos and make notes. Talk with the people who live there. Learn their customs. Good excuse for a vacation, right? If a trip is out of the question, find someone who lives or has lived in the area, and ask questions.
Do your research. These days, we no longer have to go to a library or refer to encyclopedias. Use the internet. Look for articles and websites on such things as climate, popular foods, native plants, and area customs. Start a folder on your browser to bookmark web pages, then refer to them as you’re writing.
Draw from your memories. A few years ago, I wrote a short story to include in an anthology. I created a fictitious town and gave it a name, but never mentioned the state. It was a place where my husband and I vacationed several times, although years had passed since our last visit. When I took the draft to my writer’s group, one member commented that she pictured the area around Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is exactly what I had in mind.
Start a Pinterest board. This social media platform is an excellent place to save photos and things related to your WIP. I spent a couple of hours one evening looking at and saving photos of a small New Mexico town. If I get stuck describing a scene, I can refer to them. You also have the choice of making the board private if you don’t want to share it with your followers. (You may have guessed I love New Mexico since my upcoming series is set there.)
Some settings are generic. Coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses all have similar features. A quiet neighborhood will have many of the same characteristics. Sit outside and observe your surroundings. Dictate or write notes of what you hear and see. Things such as a passing automobile, birds chirping, barking dogs, the smell of freshly cut grass are commonplace.
But be careful when you write. If you have magnolia trees in southern Arizona or Saguaro cactus in South Carolina, you’ve lost your audience and risk ruining your credibility as an author.
What other advice would you offer to make a setting realistic? Please share in the comments.