Writing

Setting as Place

I think one of my favorite parts of writing is exploring setting. Even if your setting is somewhere you’re familiar with, there’s still that feeling of discovery as you look for those details that will make your setting come alive for readers, and make it truly unique.

I write mostly high fantasy, so my settings are completely imaginary. Here’s a poorly drawn map so you can see a rough outline of what I’m working with:

So. Imaginary. Or…are they?

For example, Calanthe’s hometown is on the coast. When I think of the coast of Nilea, I actually think of the Northern California coastline:

Even though my map is clearly littered with names and places that don’t exist outside of my imagination, I can still make the place seem realistic by giving realistic details, and having somewhere real in mind when I write helps a lot.

Another thing that really helps me with making my settings realistic is to concentrate on sensory details. With the ocean example, what does it smell like? What sorts of things would Calanthe see and hear on a daily basis? How does your skin and hair feel after a day at the beach? Obviously, I don’t want to overwhelm you all with detail, but being aware of these details can help me to make the setting more realistic since you’re aware of these things. The trick is to give us just enough to make it come alive, and yet wanting more.

One thing I did a lot over the summer when the weather was nice was go for walks a lot. I’d take my journal with me to the park, and then just sit there and concentrate on everything I was picking up with my senses – what I could hear, smell, see, taste, touch – and then write about it all in my journal. If I was feeling particularly ambitious, I’d write a poem using these details later when I got home, which was really good practice with language.

My novels all have a hugely historical flavor to them, so that also plays a huge part in creating my settings. But at risk of this post running too long, I’ll get to that some other time.

Currently Listening To: Kelly Clarkson – “Whyyawannabringmedown”
Currently Reading: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

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1 thought on “Setting as Place”

  1. Setting is one of my favorite elements of writing. I based my last fictional setting very heavy on Cannon Beach, OR, one of my favorite towns. I'm awed by those who write fantasy and sci-fi, and the worlds they create. Such imagination!

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