Monday, December 13, 2010

Who Knows? Who Cares? You Do. I Do.

Okay, it's true. This writing tip we are about to share with you all, doesn't have anything to do with Christmas. You won't mind that will you?
I guarantee you'll enjoy reading this great advice about how you might come up with a setting for your next book. That is, if you write books.
You don't write books? Well, that's okay too. For all of us, everything we do, every place we go speaks to who we are and what we know. What we want to know more about.
It teaches us more about ourselves. And teaches others more about us.

Read on, and we'll see what our tip writer Delia thinks.

 Does It Really Matter WHERE?

Delia Latham

It don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summer time…
And it don’t snow in Minneapolis when the winter comes…

Right. Try making a half-intelligent reader believe either of those lies. Even if they’ve never been to Indianapolis, never visited Minneapolis, Roger Miller’s old song let us all know without a single doubt that it most certainly does those things in those cities.

One of the many details an author has to consider when writing a work of fiction is where it will take place. It’s a little difficult to take a reader through an entire book without giving them some sense of location.

That said…does it matter what that place is?

While some books don’t shine a spotlight on any particular location, details provide at least vague hints. As a reader, if I come across a really unusual landmark or some sort of quirky weather in a work of fiction, my curiosity is aroused. If the author hasn’t spelled out a specific location, I start flipping through the book looking for one.

Do we reallyl want to force our readers to do that? I don’t! The best thing to do, then, is decide on a specific location for the reader to pinpoint on his mental atlas.

What in the world is a Mental Atlas?

One of the pluses to having a specific location in mind is that it forces the writer to adhere to a degree of accuracy, and that’s always good.

  • Ex: A tornado is ripping through my heroine’s neighborhood.
Warning sirens are screaming, and the whole family is headed for the storm cellar. It is to be hoped that I haven’t stated my setting as a fictional town in central California! If I have, most readers will close the book and find something else to read, because I obviously either live in some kind of alternate reality or I haven’t done my research.                                                 
  • Ex 2: A character has been viciously attacked by an alligator.
If the attack is crucial to your storyline, use it. But for Heaven’s sake, do not then tell us he’s in a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona! I’m not even sure there’s an alligator in that zoo…but I haven’t done that research. 
  • Ex 3: You want to set your novel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the time of year needs to be mid-winter.
That opens up a lot of possibilities for an exciting storyline—good for you! Now don’t spoil it by sending your character outside wearing capris and a light cardigan. You’ll have to hospitalize her for hypothermia—and hopefully you won’t send her to UCLA for that medical care…

Location, Location, Location
Location, therefore, depends to some extent on your storyline. Or…if your location is set in stone, then your storyline needs to mold to that environment with accuracy and believability.

Other things need to be considered in setting, aside from the obvious weather conditions, or flora and fauna.


What about dialect? Stephen King is superb at pinpointing Maine as his typical setting simply by writing the dialect into his characters’ speech patterns. (Seriously, where else would a character spout “Ayuh” in every other sentence?) Southern states have a distinctive way of speaking, as well. And it shouldn’t be hard to identify a Cajun character’s location if you can master his language in your writing. (Have you read The Green Mile?)
 (And what about Brer Rabbit? Now, that's a book with dialect!)

Religious affiliations. Yep, setting matters. While nothing’s impossible (at least, not with God…), you’re a whole lot less likely to find an Amish community in the Los Angeles area than in say, somewhere around Philadelphia, wouldn’t you agree? And if your main character was born and raised in Utah, please don’t try to convince your reader that they’ve never met a Mormon. What are the chances? Little pockets of specific religious denominations do exist in various locations.

General settings. States and/or countries completely aside, local setting matters. Surfers don’t tend to congregate in Oklahoma. Beach settings aren’t often arid and dry. Setting can even be reflected in the foods your hero and heroine most often eat. If they live on the coast, chances are they eat more seafood than a character who lives in Kansas or Wyoming. You’ll find more collard greens on the table of a Southern character than one who lives in Los Angeles.

So many details that can make or break a story, little things that make it believable or totally unrealistic. Place has its place in every storyline. Location, location, location.

The answer is “yes.” It really matters WHERE.

© 2010 Delia Latham

Yesterday's Promise
Adam's Wings (coming this month)

Now, tell us about that favorite place you either like to read about at Christmas time, if there is one, or if you are a writer, write about anytime of year. And be sure to tell us why. Pick up your computer pen and share YOUR thoughts with us.

Graphics compliments of Ritva's Gallery and Julia Bettencourt.


  1. And thank you for writing in, Pamela. Every tip is so helpful to me too. I learn a lot from what so many offer to share with us here at the blog. Be blessed this Christmas.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Pamela! And Shirley, I'm thrilled to know that something I say in my tips might be helpful to you, as well. :)

  3. Wow...a lot of information here on your blog. I'll have to come back after Christmas and fill up!

    Have a Merry Christmas!

  4. I sure appreciate the tips. And I don't even write.
    Jackie Analy

  5. So glad you enjoyed the tips, ladies! DO come back!