One of the most common marks of a beginning writer is the “talking heads” story. What does that mean? Well, you have dialogue (usually between two characters) but no sense of place. The reader can’t picture the characters fully because he doesn’t know where they’re having this conversation––at the kitchen table? Walking together down a dusty road in the South? Squirming to find a comfortable position in airline seats? Without setting, dialogue doesn’t seem totally real.

Setting should be carefully chosen for your fiction. A story told on the beach in California will not be interchangeable with the same basic plot set on the streets of London. Setting is more than background noise. For some stories, setting is almost a character by itself since it can affect every area of the story. Your protagonist’s surroundings will influence his attitudes and responses to conflict. Setting includes geography [In what part of the world is the story located?], season [A summer story is very different from a winter story in children’s magazines], and housing [Apartment? Mansion? Boarding school?].

Some writers draw elaborate floor plans and maps to help them write consistently about their setting. The more vividly you visualize your setting, the better you can weave it throughout your story and the more it can support your plot. If you have only a sketchy understanding of the particulars of the environment your book is set in, you’ll find yourself scotch-taping on your setting details rather than building a believable world.

For more ideas on how to build good setting, listen to the full episode.

Listener Question of the Week:

Kathy asks:

Does self-published work still engender the respect you’d get by going through a publishing house? And is there any point to playing the publishing house game when the author has to do most of the jobs previously covered by the publisher (market research, advertising, etc.)?

Listen to the episode for the answer!

Download this episode's show notes
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