Friday, April 20, 2012

Know Your Reader, Know Your Setting

In the first post of this series, Know Your Reader, Know Your Genre, we discussed the specifics of who our reader is. Age, occupation, interests, etc-and how knowing these details will help us nail down our genre.

For example, my reader is in her late twenties to early forties, SAHM, loves an escape, loves romance, wants a happy ending, enjoys humor. She's a romantic comedy reader.

If you visited the post, there were other questions you could ask yourself about your reader, all of which are going to help you with today's post.

Knowing who my reader is gives me a great formula for where I should set my novel, and even set specific scenes. Romance novels are very commonly set in small towns, and for very good reason. Readers want a cozy, romantic setting. Readers of this genre love community and family and places that are conducive to falling love. If you don't believe me, ask a romance writer (or reader). Ask an agent. Check out Love Inspired stories and single-title romances. You've got seaside communities, small mountain towns, inns, heroines returning to their childhood homes, and the list goes on and on.

So if you're a romance writer, you don't HAVE to write about a small Colorado town that borders the mountains and has a county fair every year, but know that many readers expect and enjoy something similar. And if her job is veterinarian to horses at the heroes barn, or she's redecorating a small B&B, or she serves coffee at the cute bookstore and coffee shop on the corner, it's probably because readers respond to these small-town, community atmospheres and occupations.

Let's look at another genre. How about YA? Your reader is young, your reader wants to read about people his or her age, your readers wants to see a setting, or an environment they're either familiar with (a school for example) or they can picture clearly and relate to. Take the Twilight books. Whether you've read them or not, most of you know they were set in a small, beautiful town where it rains or is cloudy most of the year. It appeals to the reader (specifically a YA audience) because A) it's necessary to the plot, so the setting almost becomes another character in itself and B) it's sort of magical and eerie and unique. Young adults, particularly those into the supernatural, are going to love magical and eerie and unique.

Crime/Drama/Suspense thrillers? Bigger cities, places where there is statistically more crime. Not always, but this is often the case. Instead of a cozy B&B, the heroine visits, lives in, or discovers the crime in a big city loft, a bigger business, maybe even a city alleyway.

There are exceptions to all these rules of course, but really study up on your genre and who your reader is. Our job is to appeal to and reach the reader and sometimes the best way to do that is giving them EXACTLY what they want and expect.

So, do you know what kind of setting your reader wants? Do you typically write about these Linktypes of settings or do you go outside of the box and wow readers with new, unique settings?

***photos by DMF Photography
and Don Briggs
Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Evidently I haven't studied up on my genre!!! I had no idea most romances were set in small towns. Seriously. How did I not know that?

Great food for thought, Cindy!

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

Wow, great post, Cindy. I don't think I've ever thought about picking a setting by a genre. But it definitely makes sense. Thanks!

Julia M. Reffner said...


This is interesting. I haven't thought much about what setting my reader might want. Great thoughts!

Unknown said...

I'm wtih the commenters above. :) I've not really thought about the setting my readers would want. For this story, I'm writing what I know, which is the city where I grew up. I'm trying to make interesting settings for where the scenes take place. You've given me more to think on. Thanks, Cindy!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post, Cindy.
Good advice. The setting is a huge component of any story and therefore needs to pique the interest of the reader.

Unknown said...

Love this. I'm absolutely a small-town girl at heart, so I love reading books set in small towns...especially when it comes to contemporary stories. When I read historicals, I love bigger city settings in far-off places. But yeah, that gets back to the genre thing and I think contemporary romance lends itself so well to small-town settings.

I love quirky small towns, too, a la Gilmore Girls. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, I'm not sure if it's more of a recent thing, but small towns and cozy atmospheres are a big thing in romances. I love it!

Hi Heidi, it's just another way to think about setting and maybe appeal to readers who already read that genre. But there are also some really unique settings in genres you wouldn't expect.

Hi Julia. I've heard some agents talk about settings and how they might appeal to readers but a lot of it is with romance. I figure it could definitely apply to other genres.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jeanne, that's a great idea. Writing about a place you're familiar with and really focusing on interesting settings in each scene will give some great vivid detail readers appreciate.

Mary, I agree that setting is important. Even if it's played down, it still plays a part and can do wonders for a story.

Melissa, I LOVE Gilmore Girls especially because of the quirky setting. Stories can really come alive with the right setting.

Keli Gwyn said...

I have fun choosing my settings. Since I write historical romance, I find real towns that existed at the time my story takes place and endeavor to bring them to life on the page. I'm fond of small town settings for the reasons you mentioned, Cindy, although I do have an idea for a series set in a city.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Keli, settings are fun to think about and choose, right? Real towns definitely take more research (unless you lived there, which is harder to do with historical, obviously), but I think they're fun for readers to read about because there's usually more detail and the images are more vivid because they're based on real life. That's interesting you have an idea for a series set in a city. Sounds fun!

Casey said...

Small town romances are definitely in right now.

I need to work on grounding my setting. Putting it in a specific place, which was one of the comments on my Genesis results.

Ruth Douthitt said...

My YA Fiction is set at a Prepatory High school AND in it's be fun creating both settings!

Thanks for this reminder to make sure the setting is relevant and even an important character.

Ruth Douthitt said...

That should be "preparatory" high school! Oops! ;)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, that's a good tip. I think whether readers know it or not, they're looking for certain things in a setting and it's nice to have other writers, judges, editors, whoever, to help us with that.

Ruth, those are great settings. They sound fun to create, but also fun and perfect for a YA reader to read. Have a great weekend!

Lisa Jordan said...

My publisher has studied settings with the reading demographic and found Love Inspired readers prefer small towns. And that's what I write. I wrote stories set in small towns before I became a published author, but knowing I was already doing something to fit with their reading audience helped. :)

I love a variety of settings in the different books I read. The story needs to draw me into the setting so I can visualize where the story takes place.

Wonderful article, Cindy!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Thanks, Lisa! I agree, settings are important to draw the reader in and give them a visual of where the characters are living, working, and getting into mischief :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Awesome tips, Cindy. You're so right...Even thought it may seem formulaic, it sort of is, and for good reason. Publishers like to go to their cream-of-the-crop types of settings because they sell well.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

So true, Sarah. I know we writers like to be creative sometimes, and give the readers something knew, but it's not wrong to give them what they're used to and what they want as well.

Susan Anne Mason said...


So true about the small town settings being popular. I've set most of my stories in small towns.

And right now I'm reading a series by Sherryl Woods set in the small, ocean side town of Chesapeake Shores. I love this town and these characters!
Want to go visit there!


Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sue, I LOVE ocean side stories. Definitely want to visit that town, too. Very smart setting your stories in small towns.