If your a writer I’m sure you’ve had a moment like this…you have characters. You might even have a plot. But you’re not sure where to place the story.
My mentor Colleen Coble has told me often that the setting should be so integral to the story that it is practically a character. To the point readers can’t imagine the story taking place anywhere else.
Unlike some writers I often start with the setting, especially with my historicals. There will be some even in a specific location that triggers the what if that jump-starts my creativity. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to incorporate setting so that it grows organically into the plot:
1) If at all possible visit the location. The photo above is from Mackinac Island, the setting of my book that releases in April. A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island grew out of a visit my family made to this island at the tip of Michigan. There’s something so quaint and captivating about this small island that doesn’t allow cars or other vehicles that aren’t propelled by something other than feet — horse or human. Looking at photos is great, but it’s not the same as actually being there and soaking in the atmosphere. Seeing the differences between the island in daylight and once the sun goes down.
2) Talk to those in the locale who will play a role in your book. When we visited Mackinac Island, I already had a general idea of the type of book I wanted to set there. While my family spent time at Fort Mackinac, I stopped at the police station and talked to the police chief. I had an idea of what would happen if a murder occurred, but he confirmed and redirected my ideas. When I was almost done writing the book, I realized that one of the characters was going to be shot. That led to a line of questions I hadn’t anticipated when I was on the island, so I placed calls to the medical clinic on the island to see how a gunshot would be treated and handled. While I was 90% right, that isn’t close enough.
3) Take lots of pictures and hang on to the guidebooks from the area. While writing Sandhill Dreams, I drove to Fort Robinson outside Crawford, Nebraska, to spend the day with the museum curator. It was wonderful to get his perspective and research on Fort Robinson’s role during World War II, especially the dog training, but I almost forgot the most important stop…the museum bookstore. In there I found a couple of resources on the flora and fauna of Nebraska from Nebraskaland Magazine. Those resources (only $1 each) became go to books as I wrote all three of my Nebraska books and tried to incorporate variations in the locations of each. While in London at the Imperial War Museum, I found a book in the bookstore that sent my scurrying back to an exhibit that highlighted the children of World War II in London and England. That led to research that became the historical hook for A Promise Kept. Grab your camera and take lots of photos…you never know when you’ll need them, but also be sure to grab the maps, phone books and fliers that will help you remember the critical details that inspired your creativity. While at the Biltmore in Ashville, North Carolina, I took photos of books in the shops, so that I could dig deeper when I got home to see if they’d actually have the information I needed.
What tips do you have for incorporating setting in your writing?