Take Anne of Green Gables, for instance. How many "kindred spirits" want to travel to Prince Edward Island as much as they want to meet Anne? They want to paddle across The Lake of Shining Waters and experience The White Way of Delight in all of its beauty.
We choose the settings for our stories in different ways. But regardless of how they originate, I've noticed there are three primary types of settings writers deal with. I'll break them down below, as well as provide tips for how you can make your setting stand out.
Well-Known, Highly-Visited Settings (for example, New York City)
- Find a unique angle to freshen it up. Don't settle for generalities or cliches. Hone in on a particular neighborhood, a particular store or shop, a park, etc. (Think Breakfast at Tiffany's. Or how about Sleepless in Seattle, when they meet at the top of the Empire State Building?)
- Make sure the setting details are accurate. Since your readers have likely been there, they'll notice any inconsistencies or misportrayals. And you don't want to pull them from the story with a setting flub that's easily fixable.
Real Settings That Lend Themselves to Uniqueness (for example, Sandwich, Illinois, in Alley-Cat Krista's book ----> )
- Play up the unique aspects. Whether it's the town name, like Krista's book, or a unique geographic location (a beach town, for instance), bring those things to the forefront in the story. Let them be key players. Think of the setting as another character in and of itself, with its own quirks and personality.
- Present the setting from an authentic viewpoint. It might mean you've already spent time there, or it might mean you need to go on a research trip (or do a virtual visit online). Look at the setting from fresh eyes and seek out the traits that first get your attention. Your readers are relying on you to transport them there, and they want the full experience, not a high-level skimming.
Fictional Settings Based on Real Settings (For example, The town in my book is set in the same geographic area as a town where I grew up. I gave it a different name to give me creative liberty with the story details.)
- Create unique details, but avoid making them too over-the-top. Readers want to be transported to a great story setting, but they also want it to be believable. Once you cross the point of being too outrageous, the reader may give up on the book altogether.
No matter which type of setting you write, the key is to keep it unique and realistic. A well-written setting will enhance the story, not detract from it, and it will likely create lifelong fans. All you have to do is visit Prince Edward Island to see the proof. :)
What types of settings do you typically write? How did you end up planting your stories there? What are some of the quirks or unique "personality traits" of your settings that play a role in the story?
*Special note: There's a fourth type of setting I didn't cover here--fictional story worlds created by fantasy writers. Since I have no expertise in this area, I'm leaving it to the capable hands of the fantasy experts. :)
**Green Gables photo from www.anneofgreengables.com.
***Deer photo from http://minnesota.publicradio.org.
Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a contributor to the webzine Ungrind.
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