More Than a Place

Outtakes 401

More Than a Place

By Cait Collins


When I begin working on a new project, I have an idea of where I will build the story.  In other words, where do I want to place my characters?  I try to use familiar locations or places where I’ve lived instead of trying to traverse Central Park when I’ve never been there.  Even though you can get some feel of Central Park from a travel guide, it’s risky to attempt to describe the park when you’re not sure if a particular site is in the north or west part of the park.

When writing How Do You Like Me Now, I used a small west Texas town.  It’s one of those places where everyone knows his neighbor, how often the husband and wife fight, and that Jack was arrested for DWI again.  There are good things and bad, but then that’s true of every place.  By placing my characters in this town, I could describe the shot-gun house, the long, tree-lined driveway and the huge pecan tree in the back yard.  Of course there was a porch swing.

With a familiar setting, you have a better grasp of the citizens.  Are they side-takers?  Do they accept strangers?  Do they fear authority?  Can they accept change?

Bottom line is setting is more than just a location.  The setting encompasses not only the size and location of the town; it’s also the character of the place.  It’s the people and their flaws and good qualities. That’s why I would be hesitant to set a story in a place I had never visited

Don’t Forget The Senses As Part of Your Setting

Don’t Forget The Senses In Your Setting

How does the loss of sight affect your hearing?

What color does an orange smell like?

How loud is an inner voice?

Can you describe how the wind feels?

What does sour taste like?

When I am writing, it’s easy to visualize what I want my characters to see and feel or even smell. However putting it down on paper so that the reader can clearly see them is a difficult task. For example, if I write, “He walked into the room and gazed at the beautiful painting hanging on the wall.” What does the reader see? What object is displayed in the painting? What colors make the painting beautiful? How is it framed?

This dilemma came to life for me when the main character of my novel, UNLAWFUL WORDS, suddenly goes blind. Writing what he saw with his eyes came to an abrupt halt. How do I write his experiences now?

A blindfold

Using a blindfold I spent several hours experiencing the darkness. Immediately I began to depend on my hearing, turning my head from side to side trying to capture all the sounds around me. My hands automatically reached forward hoping to feel something familiar and my feet slowed their steps to prevent stumbling. The objects once identified by sight now had to be described by feeling the texture, or the smell. These are the details that help the reader understand what the character is experiencing.

In your writing, use the basic senses such as taste, touch, hear, see, smell. Be careful not to give the reader sensory overload by giving a long string of description using all five sense on every situation, when generally the use of two or more different senses can tie the picture together for the reader.

Rory C. Keel




Natalie Bright

Your story setting is the location, environment, or atmosphere in which your novel takes place. Some authors believe in getting to know the setting by walking the land.

Here’s the link to a Youtube video with New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Thomas explaining her process. The photos featured in the video were taken by me in the Texas Panhandle, and if you like cows and Texas sunsets and such, you can see more on my blog, Prairie Purview, at or find me on Instagram @natsgrams and Pinterest @natbright

Video: Walking the Land with Jodi Thomas



Lynnette Jalufka


Characters don’t act in a vacuum. Their actions take place somewhere. More than a place, a setting can set the tone, show characterization, create obstacles, and even become a character itself.

In O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” Della is upset that she doesn’t have enough money to buy her husband a Christmas present. The scene outside describes her mood: “She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard.”

Don’t neglect your settings. They have great power.

Fantasy Settings

Fantasy Settings

by Adam Huddleston


The blog topic this month is “settings”.  The first thing I think about when I think of settings is fantasy fiction.  In my opinion, no other genre (save maybe science fiction) can boast of such robust and imaginative world-building as fantasy.  When it comes to make-believe worlds, not even the sky is the limit.

The joy (and sometimes overwhelming fear) of the fantasy writer is that they often place their story in a setting of their own creation.  This means that the author must imagine the world’s landscape, inhabitants, and history and then place a believable tale within it.  This is not as easy as it may seem.  The setting must complement the characters and plot of the story, without drawing too much attention away from it.

To give a quick example of my own work, one of my fantasy stories I’m working on exists in a world surrounded by a huge, vertical sea wall.  The actual border of their circular, flat planet ends with a wall of water that is hundreds of miles tall.  Since gravity must pull the water away from the land, it causes everything (and everyone) to slide sideways toward the world’s border.  This allows for some exciting, dangerous action scenes.

No matter what your favorite genre to write is, I highly encourage you to try setting a story in a fantasy setting.  It is very fun and definitely strengthens your world-building skills.

Happy writing!

Learning Setting

Outtakes 400

Learning Setting

By Cait Collins


I remember someone, obviously not a writer, say that journalists have an advantage when writing fiction, because they are used to writing.  Truth is writing for a news cast, a radio slot, or even a newspaper is the complete opposite of writing fiction.  For example I had to learn about settings.

Journalism is almost strictly Who, What, Where, When, Why.  You might have 30 seconds to tell the story. You don’t have time to talk about the sunny afternoon with the temperature in the eighties.  Its John Doe drove his car into a house on the corner of 45th and some street on Sunday at 2 P.M. because he was intoxicated.  The driver was taken to the hospital and released after treatment.  The police are investigating.

Fiction relies, to a certain extent, on details.  Think of Snoopy’s standard opening, “It was a dark and stormy night.”  This begins to set the scene.  There’s a storm.  John Doe opened the car door and stepped out into the ankle deep puddle.  It had been raining all day, and in the darkness, he hadn’t noticed the flooded driveway.  He shivered as the icy water soaked his shoes and jeans legs.  He fumed as he stomped toward the front door.  Wasn’t it bad enough that his girlfriend of twelve months had broken up with him?  Now he was soaked and freezing.  And what did she mean “he couldn’t commit?”

Now we have the setting.  So we just have to decide where we go next.

Settings Adds Dimension

This month in our WordsmithSix blogs, we will be writing on the topic of settings.

Settings Adds Dimension

Rory C. Keel

The setting most often is thought of as only the backdrop to a story. However, many times, the surrounding landscape, or a single small item that is touched or seen may be a pivotal point of change for your character.

History and culture are essential in the setting. Whether your story is placed in ancient history or in more recent times, your characters will have an extra dimension that allows them to come alive to the reader as they interact with the culture of the time. Even future or fantasy genres have a culture and history. History and culture help define who your characters are.

Climate and geography play a big part in the setting of a story. Is it winter or summer? Are your characters in a forest or relaxing on a sandy beach?  The climate may determine how your character will dress. Geography will dictate a person’s activities and how they might react to challenges. Running from a bear, or being stung by a jellyfish while swimming, may even change a plot’s direction.

The setting of a story includes the “When” and “Where” of a story. It brings depth to your characters and fills your story with richness.