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What's An Aspiring Author To Do?

This column is based on questions Margaret gets asked by those who also want to write romance novels. The answers are based on her personal experience. Every author must and should find their own way along this path; however, sometimes it helps to know how it was for an author who's reached the goal of publication.

This column's question:
How do I create a vivid, realistic setting for my novel?

Margaret answers:
One of the most important things you have to do when you write a novel is to establish a sense of the time and place in which your novel takes place, and do it quickly. This is one way to draw your reader into the world of your characters, and to engage their imagination.

You can always take the most easy way out -- say so right in the beginning, as a heading before the story begins. England, 1066, for instance. This tells the reader right away where they are and what sort of things to expect.

But it takes more than that to really establish a sense of time and place. Think details -- the buildings, the furnishings, the clothes, the vehicles. You should have the details as correct as you possible can for the era in which you're writing, including the present. If you're writing about a mall, just saying "the mall" isn't enough. Large? Small? Well kept? A mess? Ditto a castle, or a manor house.

To add another layer to your setting, think of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Don't think just about what your characters can see, but how else they experience their world.

Be on the look-out for the "telling detail," something that immediately tells your reader they're not in Kansas anymore (unless, of course, they are *G*). It can be a simple, everyday thing, like a utensil, or something really unique to a time period, like a uniform or a hat. Sometimes one item like this can be worth paragraphs of general description.

Ultimately, the amount of space you devote to setting is a matter of style -- there is no "right" or "wrong" here. Some readers like to feel totally immersed in the setting; others prefer a faster paced story, or one that concentrates more on the conflict between the characters. Think of the books you've enjoyed the most, and ask yourself how much the setting, and the descriptions, contributed to that experience.

Recommended Reading:
WORD PAINTING: A GUIDE TO WRITING MORE DESCRIPTIVELY by Rebecca McClanahan.


Index of Aspiring Author Columns
This material is Margaret's intellectual property. If you would like to print it out for your personal use, feel free. If you belong to a writing group and would like to reproduce it for your fellow writers, please e-mail Margaret at maggiejmoore @ yahoo.com (no spaces). All other use is prohibited.

Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Wilkins. This material may not be copied without permission.