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5 Tips for Writing Your Setting

When I teach classes about writing or plotting a book I usually include at least one lesson writing setting. It's something that I think can really help bring the reader into your story.  If they can see or feel the story location in their minds it makes understanding the plot and the characters much easier.
But how do you accomplish that?  Here are five tips to help you write a more realistic setting.

1. Know your Setting.  It just stands to reason that if you know a location you will be able to write about it better. As someone who has lived in both locations I can say that the feel of the mountains in Colorado is different than the feeling you get in the mountains of Washington state. The ski resorts in Colorado are different than what you feel when you visit ski resorts outside Vancouver. Knowing some of those small differences can bring the story home.

Still what can you do if you can't visit every location you want to use?

2. Duplicate the feeling of the location.  A ski crowd in Colorado will be dressed much the same as that crowd on the slopes in Washington. The icy touch of the morning sun and the coldness of the snow will be very similar.  Riding up the gondola is going to be similar.  Drink in the sensations of where you are and look for the similarities that you can use.

3. Drink in the ambience. I am always telling my family when I visit a new place where I have never been that I am soaking up the ambience.  I like to feel the location and that can mean not just looking at the sights, but closing my eyes and listening to the sounds or smelling what is in the air. That can mean feeling things down to the density of the air. Again, the feeling of a February afternoon in Phoenix is different than a summer day in Colorado even if the temperature might be close to the same.

4.  Look for differences that you can compare to what the reader might know. I often use comparisons to well known places or things to bring the setting home. This can be very helpful when writing about fictional towns. Bring in sensations that the reader can relate to.

5. Remember to listen to the language and listen for the little idiosyncrasies of a certain dialect.  Some of these can be very small. We can probably pick out the differences between someone who is from New York as opposed to someone who is from Texas or Georgia.  Can you tell the difference between someone from Iowa and Washington? How about Minnesota and California?

The main thing to remember is that a little bit of research can go a long way when researching a location. And remember if you are using a location that you aren't quite certain about, Google Maps is a wonderful resource.  Do a flyover to see the landscape or pull down closer and jump on a road or highway and take a visual tour across the country. 


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