Something delicious happens when you start reading a new book and find yourself seamlessly transported to another world. Maybe you’re fighting in a galaxy far away, or dancing at a masquerade ball in Regency England, or walking through a charming town someplace you’ve never been.
Books take us on a journey and for me, that trip begins with setting, that first tantalizing glimpse through the opening-scene portal into another world. When an author whisks me to another world and plants my feet on solid ground, I’m ready to enjoy the trip.
But sometimes, everything screeches to a halt because I don’t know where I am. Frustration sets in as I flip back to the beginning of the book to look for clues, characteristics, something solid to anchor me in that particular place. Without it, I can’t really settle in and enjoy the story.
If your settings need a little pizazz, here are a few tips to draw the reader in and immerse them in your story world.
Start with the Big Picture
My Dad worked for TWA for 37 years, so my love of travel and perpetual excitement over new places started early. The first thing I do is simply stop and look around. It’s wonderful to take it all in—the sights, sounds, smells, unique architecture, different clothing, accents and all the amazing variations in people and culture.
Even if you’re writing about your home town, go do the same thing. A small town in Florida is not at all like a ranch in Wyoming. Force yourself to see it like you’ve never been there before. Take pictures, jot notes, write down the smells, the feeling.
If you’re starting from scratch or writing about someplace far away, go online and search for images, videos and travel shows. Gather it all so you have a thick stew of impressions to scoop from.
Narrow it Down to the Telling Details
Places have their own personality, their own unique vibe that differs from anywhere else. The challenge is to take those big sweeping impressions and boil them down to deliciously memorable snippets. It’s all about the telling details, the one description that distinguishes this place from any other. What does the waterfront smell like? How do the waves sound lapping against the dock?
Make the Setting (almost) a Character
For my stories, setting is one of the first things I start thinking about. I always make sure it is part of the plot. For example, Tangled Lies takes place in a small town in Florida, in and around a family-owned marina. The climax scene of Angel Falls takes place at Iguacu Falls, Brazil, one of the world’s largest waterfalls. Neither plot would work if I tried to move the story to the middle of, say, a big city. The setting has become part of the plot itself—and impacts the book title, too.
Create Visuals for Yourself
I draw a map of every town I create, so I don’t have to remember whether my heroine turns left or right when leaving her house to go to the café. I also create collages with photos and use Pinterest boards as a fun way to keep track of those telling details.
Know When to Say When
How much detail should you include? That depends quite a bit on genre. In a historical, readers expect more lush and lengthy descriptions, though less is still better than more. I write suspense, so readers won’t tolerate a long descriptive paragraph of flowers and butterflies—unless the killer is hiding behind said flowers, trigger cocked, ready to shoot the heroine as she walks by. Even then, readers won’t care about the butterfly unless it lands on his nose and affects his aim.
No matter what genre you write, build a setting we want to visit. Help us see it clearly, and we’ll settle in to enjoy the journey.
How do you create captivating settings?
Bio: Connie Mann is a licensed boat captain and the author of romantic suspense novels Tangled Lies (May 2016) Angel Falls and Trapped! as well as various works of shorter fiction. She has lived in seven different states but has happily called warm, sunny Florida home for more than twenty years. When she’s not dreaming up plotlines, you’ll find “Captain Connie” on Central Florida’s waterways, introducing boats full of schoolchildren to their first alligator. She is also passionate about helping women and children in developing countries follow their dreams and break the poverty cycle. In addition to boating, she and her husband enjoy spending time with their grown children and extended family and planning their next travel adventures. You can visit Connie online at www.conniemann.com.
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