Episode 40

7 Tips for Creating a Setting

Learn what it really means to win NaNoWriMo. Plus, we discuss 7 tips for creating your novel's setting.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"We Were Meant To Be" by Humans Win

"Sunshine"   by Simon Jomphe Lepine

"A Triumphant Return" by Jon Presstone

"Storm On The Plains" by Humans Win

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

It is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. If you’re participating, I hope you’re off to a strong start. We’ve gone through the process of mapping out a three-act novel, and today I’m sharing 7 tips for creating a setting.

We are still chasing the fall foliage across the United States, and the bookstore we are visiting today has a cafe, so let’s head over there for refreshments and to discuss some publishing news.

We are at Indigo Bridge in Lincoln, Nebraska, which celebrated their grand reopening last month in their new location in the Near South neighborhood of Lincoln. Indigo Bridge considers itself a bookshop, coffee shop, and community space. With smooth and glossy concrete floors (a personal favorite), pale yellow walls, and exposed ceiling beams, this bright and airy space will make you feel welcome no matter what mood you’re in when you visit.

Let’s try their coffee and discuss the latest publishing news.

As you already know if you’ve been following the story with me, Amazon recently changed its ebook returns policy to make it more fair for authors. But they didn’t stop there. They recently changed their audiobook returns policy for Audible. Now you can only return an audiobook title within 365 days if it was purchased with an Audible credit. You are no longer able to return books purchased with a debit or credit card.

Textbook publisher McGraw Hill launched a new app called Sharpen, which presents textbook material in the form of short videos and gamified quizzes. The app is free for now and offers 18 courses on various subjects, including business, accounting, management, and economics.

There is a growing demand for children’s books that deal with violence, grief, death, and emotions. Sales of children’s books on trauma have increased year after year for the past 10 years.

Another growing subgenre is what is being called romantasy, which is YA fantasy with a lot of romance.

If you have an idea for a book that fits either of those categories, get to it. Your readers are waiting.

It’s time to take a stroll around the shop and check out two authors.

Award-winning author May-lee Chai’s new book, Tomorrow in Shanghai, is “a short story collection exploring cultural complexities in China, the Chinese diaspora in America, and the world at large.”

Belinda Huijuan Tang’s novel, A Map for the Missing, is “an epic, mesmerizing debut novel set against a rapidly changing post–Cultural Revolution China, [the novel] reckons with the costs of pursuing one’s dreams and the lives we leave behind.”

Tomorrow, November 2nd, at 7:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time, these two authors will be discussing their books during a one-hour book event hosted by Indigo Bridge, so check the show notes for a link to that free Zoom event.

Before we get into today’s writing tips, let’s indulge in a little overthinking about winning NaNoWrimo.

During the month of November, many writers attempt to write 50,000 words of a new book in 30 days. If you accomplish this Herculean feat, it is said that you win NaNoWriMo. However, I have seen authors who fall short of this word count but love what they’ve written. I’ve also seen authors who reach this word count, and then scrap the entire book in December. I don’t think writing 50,000 words in 30 days means you win NaNoWriMo. You should consider yourself a NaNoWriMo winner if you increase your confidence and improve your writing skills in those 30 days. Whether you write 50,000 words or not, was it time well spent?

Now, let’s set the scene with today’s writing tips.

Today we’re going to talk about creating a setting, which is the time and place where the story is taking place. As the author, you want to be well acquainted with your setting, but not every detail that is in your mind needs to find its way into the story.

You want to do a good job creating the setting because the setting establishes the mood and sharpens action. It defines the plot rules and sets the readers’ expectations. You want to surprise the reader along the way, and that works best when they think they know what to expect.

Here are 7 tips for creating a setting worth reading:

Be more specific. No, that does not mean every last detail should be written out, but the right details help your readers feel as though they are part of your novel’s world.

Create action, even in the inanimate. Be careful to avoid cliches though.

Add adjectives that convey mood. Think these through and do your best to write something unique without being too wordy or forcing drama.

Explore the other senses. You don’t have to cover all five senses in each scene, but it does fill a scene better when the reader is given more than one sense per scene.

Add the potential for change over time. A few examples include changing weather, construction or destruction of buildings, technological advances, or even adding or removing furniture. Just make it make sense.

Use active verbs (avoid: is, are, be, was, were, had been, etc.). For example, there were leaves on the ground, which is passive, vs. leaves covered the ground, which is active. That is also an example of tip #2, creating action, even in the inanimate.

Place your protagonist in the scene; do it in the beginning of the scene so that we establish who is perceiving the scene and we experience it through that person.

Applying these tips might feel clunky or stiff at first. You’ll have to work hard to find your writing style, select the right details, and make the words flow.

The setting also works to enhance your story’s dialogue. We’re going to talk more about dialogue next week. Until then, thanks for listening, and as always, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.