Tag Archives: picking a setting

#WritingTips Choosing a Setting

1 Feb

Every Monday, I recover previous posts that were popular, but I tackle them in a whole new way. Today, I’m covering how to choose a setting for your novel or poem or short story or whatever you’re writing. The original post, Setting: Picking a Location, can be read by clicking the link, and it covers other aspects to keep in mind, but today, I only want to tackle two ideas: real-world settings and imaginary ones.

1. Real-World Settings: Write What You Know or Research

When you’re writing about a place in the real world, you honestly have two options: write what you know or write after you research extensively. This is especially true if you’re writing a historical piece, but that’s a completely different topic to cover, so I’m basically talking about the here and now. If you’re making a decision, don’t pick what is easiest. Instead, pick what is right for your story. In fact, you might have to write your story’s first draft to realize what type of setting you need, and that’s perfectly okay. As long as you figure out what you need and where you need to go, do it the way that feels right to you as a writer. But once you know what you need, you can start researching. I always suggest considering places you already know, but I am probably biased because I moved all around the country as a kid, so I have a plethora of places to consider. That being said, you can always travel too, but please don’t think you MUST travel in order to write about a place. While Ally Carter does travel a lot—and bases many of her books on those places—she also says, “I try and try and try to get people to believe me when I say that my job is basically looking at a whiteboard covered with sticky notes and/or a computer and/or big stacks of paper all day long.” This is how picking a setting (or any part of your novel) is going to go. Research and think and research again. Even better? Research is SO easy nowadays. You can even talk to someone from that exact location if you want to. All you have to do is join a forum. One thing I’ve always loved is pretending I’m moving there. (If I play “your life is about to change dramatically,” it forces me to take it very, very seriously.) Look at the setting via Google Maps, read a travel guide, research schools, check out the town’s official website, talk to people who live there or have in the least been there. You can do it. Look at it this way, if you can spend months writing about it, you can take a week or three reading about it. One of my favorite tools—even just for fun reading—is Earth Album. You just click, and voila! Pictures of the location and the name, so you can start Googling. If you click on the picture too, it will generally send you to the source of the image so you can research it in-depth. It’s a good place to start.

A screenshot of Earth Album

A screenshot of Earth Album

Fun fact: Although not a real town, Haysworth, Kansas in The Timely Death Trilogy was a combination of two towns in Kansas: Hays and Ellsworth—both of which I’ve been to. I also lived in Kansas for seven years, so I was very familiar with the landscape, laws, people, beliefs, etc., and I wanted to have a paranormal story take place in the Midwest, especially since the Midwest is underrepresented in paranormal YA (actually in YA in general)…despite the fact that we have a gate to hell in Stull. (Google it. It’s a big deal to us Kansans…even though I’m a Missourian now.)

2. Imaginary Settings: World-Building and Map-Making

I could write an entire month’s worth of blog posts about world building, so this is going to be ridiculously brief, but I hope it’s a place to start. Just like the above option, I think it’s most important to figure out what your story needs first, but once you have that, you can start building. Again, that doesn’t mean I think you have to know all of this before you write. You can write the entire story to figure it out, and then, change everything in editing. Personally, I like building from the little details to the bigger ones, which I know is the opposite of many writers, but that’s okay, because I figured out what worked for me. (Most of my writing tips, you might notice, revolve around the idea of figuring out who you are as a writer.) I start with the story details, and I work my way up to a giant map. This way, I have my “rules” in place. I have the political systems, the social expectations, the movements, the beliefs, the types of people, the places, etc. Now, if you want to start with a map first, I’d suggest studying maps. See how they are drawn and draw yours. If you want something random, watch this YouTube video. It’s freakin’ awesome, and it’s an easy way to get all different types of terrain on various landscapes.

Personally, I am in the process of writing an epic fantasy, and I did it the old-school way: a piece of paper and a pen and a bunch of sticky notes. My living room was covered. (Because that’s what works for me.) Overall, it’s important to create a world just as rich and diverse as our world is today. Even if it’s a walled-in city, different types of people and beliefs will exist. Don’t sell your world short. Explore it, take notes on it, explore it some more. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to include every little detail of your imaginary world in your book (especially not in the first chapter), but knowing as much as possible can help fine-tune your voice and your characters. If you’re going to take inspiration from history, be honest but be respectful. That means being diligent. Be everything you’d want a future writer to be in regards to if they took inspiration from your lifetime or your country. Create a world we’ve never seen before.

Fun fact: Take Me Tomorrow and November Rain both take place in the near-future U.S., but were built very differently. The Tomo Trilogy takes place throughout the entire country, while Bad Bloods takes place in one walled-in city. While Take Me Tomorrow was largely built around rail transportation in the U.S., November Rain was built on a real city I never actually name in the story (but I do give hints as to what it is). The epic fantasy I mentioned above doesn’t take place in this world at all. That took a lot more time and consideration to create, but it was well worth it in the end.

Create, and create well. And, of course, have fun.

~SAT

Come get your books signed on February 13, from 1-3 PM during the Barnes & Noble Valentine’s Day Romance Author Event in Wichita, Kansas at Bradley Fair. Come meet Tamara GranthamCandice GilmerTheresa Romain, Jan Schliesman, and Angi Morgan! If you haven’t started The Timely Death Trilogy, don’t worry. Minutes Before Sunset, book 1, is free!

Minutes Before Sunset, book 1:

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Seconds Before Sunrisebook 2:

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Death Before Daylightbook 3:

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Get your free book today!

Get your free book today!

Writing Tips: Setting: Picking a Location

23 May

Before I begin today’s post topic, I have two things to address: 

First: Special thanks to Nicole Lee at “Ennlee’s Reading Corner” for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset:  “…The book alternates between the point of view of each of the main characters without a set pattern, and Ms. Thompson should be commended for her ability to create two characters that are similar enough to keep these sections from being disjointed, but different enough that the reader can tell in an instant who is speaking…”

Click here to read the rest.

As of now, Minutes Before Sunset is rated 4.5 stars on Amazon, 4 stars on Barnes & Noble, and 4.7 stars on Goodreads. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed! An author always appreciates the dedicated and honest support. 

This picture means a lot to me. These are two great friends of mine that I met at the University of Kansas, William and Brooke Jones, and you might notice what William is holding: my first novel, November Snow. Support (and friendship) like this is priceless.

This picture means a lot to me. These are two great friends of mine that I met at the University of Kansas, William and Brooke Jones, and you might notice what William is holding: my first novel, November Snow. Support (and friendship) like this is priceless.

Second: As many of you know, I held another contest where the winners receive a free account at Happify, a website dedicated to bringing happiness to social media within a great community of encouraging peers. The winners are:

whiteravensoars: Random Acts of Writing (invitation sent)

Ky Grabowski: Welcome to the inner workings of my mind (invitation sent)

willowysp: Freefall (I need an email)

Nicole Lee: Ennlee’s Reading Corner (invitation sent)

Amber Skye Forbes: Writing Words with the Tips of my Toes (invitation sent)

Based on status, you’ll receive a confirmation. (If you don’t fell comfortable sharing your email on my comments, please send an email to ShannonAThompson@aol.com identifying yourself, so I can send the invite) Follow me here, so I can find you, and I’ll  be sure to follow back!

Now, onto today’s post:

I wanted to discuss “setting” in a novel, but I specifically wanted to share websites where you can find more information on your place (or perhaps browse the world for inspiration, even if your setting is in another world entirely.)

I think your background is a great place to start. Everyone has heard “write what you know,” and there is truth in it. Placing your novel in a place your extremely familiar with is the easiest route (not necessarily the right route), and this can make descriptions easier. For instance, Minutes Before Sunset takes place in Hayworth, Kansas. This is not a real town. It’s actually a play on Hays and Ellsworth, both towns in Kansas. I haven’t lived in these locations, but I have been to them, and I currently live in Kansas, so I am very familiar with the culture, layout, and how the weather works. Plus, I wanted an ironic name. Since the novel is about a dark fate, it only seemed appropriate (and humorous) to have a name that suggested the town was worthy.

In regards to familiarity, another thing to think about is your basic settings. By this, I am referencing your rooms. I’ve discussed interior maps before, and every house in Minutes Before Sunset is based off of a real house I’ve lived in (aside from Eric’s. That’s my dream home.) And the maps are available on the Minutes Before Sunset extra’s page.

Back to location:

If you’re looking for a place you’re not entirely familiar with, I wanted to give a great website out there for beginning, especially if you’re not positive on what you’re looking for.

Earth Album Alpha: This is a slick flicker collection of photos, virtually capable in regards to clicking anywhere on the map just to see an arrangement of pictures from the specific country. This can be very broad, but it can also help narrow down what you’re looking for. As an example, the picture below is of Serbia. (I clicked randomly.) You’ll see a collection of tiny pictures at the top, which you can enlarge, that will show the region. In particular, this country has a lot of beautiful fields, so you may not be interested in Serbia, but you might realize you want an open space, and you can go from there.

Earth Album Alpha

Earth Album Alpha

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Do you like these tips? Join my Facebook page for more!

Weather Base: This website helps summarize what happens in regards to weather in the average year based on the location you choose. This is actually a traveling website, meant for tourists to figure out ideal weather to travel in, but you can learn whatever you want all over the world. I really recommend checking these things, because fallacies can happen in location, if you’re not familiar with how citizens live beneath the weather clouds. A good example of this is the famous young-adult novel, Twilight. Although Meyer set it in a rain-prone state, the amount of rain she used was very unrealistic to the location. In an interview, she even admitted that she visited for weeks without rain and was quite disappointed with her lack of research. However, she was delighted to bring tourism to the city that wasn’t known before. So there are pros and cons to everything.

American Culture: If you want to stay in the states, this blog is full of information about history, culture, language, education, and more. It even includes family arrangements, death rituals, and relationships to other countries where these things may have taken place originally. This won’t only help your setting; it can help your characters round out as they’ll have a family background stabilized within reality. For instance, it may remind you of the variation in language used across certain areas. An exact quote: “Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog due to immigration from the countries where those languages are spoken, and to a certain extent French, primarily in far north New England, due to the Acadian-Canadian influence, and in Louisiana (Cajun).”

My hopes is that sites like this will help the initial process of choosing a location you (as much as your readers) feel connected to as much as your characters will be grounded in it. 

If you have any other sites, comment below! And, as usual, if you have a topic you want to hear about, let me know, and I’ll credit your blog for asking the question on that post.

I hope everyone is having a great time! (Paperback news is coming soon!)

Goodreads Quote of the day“I was falling in love with her, and she was falling in love with me. It was fated, decided before any of us were born, and I hated it as much as I loved it. I could barely stand it.” (Eric, Minutes Before Sunset)

~SAT

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