The Elements of Fiction: Setting – Part 1

What goes into writing a novel? Obviously, a good story and interesting characters. As I’ve studied the craft of writing – and, yes, it is a craft to be studied, learned, practiced, and improved – I have discovered that there is more to a story than just the “story.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, many stories begin with a “What if” question or a spark of an idea. But once the idea is formed, then what? How does a writer get from “Once upon a time…” to “The End”?

There are a number of things to consider. In the next few posts, I’d like to explore the various aspects that go into a story and how they affect how the book takes shape.

One thing that must be decided on early in the process is the setting. Where does the story take place? Sometimes the setting is important to the story, such as a political thriller set in Washington, D.C. Or a romance set in a romantic coastal town.

For my story, I chose to set it in a small Southern town. After all, a common piece of advice to writers is to “write what you know.” I grew up in a small Southern town, so that type of setting, the people who live there, the social graces, and the relationships that grow there are as familiar to me as my own home. There is something special, sentimental, and almost utopian about small towns. And Southern people have so much character and flavor to their personalities. I wanted to portray these to both people who live there and those who have never been south of the Mason-Dixon line.

However, I chose to create a fictional town as I didn’t want to set the story in an actual town – neither the one I grew up in nor any of the ones close by. The characters and the plot of the story are completely made up and not based on anyone or anything I know in “real life.” I chose to make up the town as well to keep anyone from thinking I had patterned the story after one of them.

Sometimes the setting isn’t so much about the place as it is the time. Is the story a contemporary one – meaning, is it set in “modern” times? That could mean today or a few years or even a decade ago. Or is it “futuristic,” meaning the story happens at some point in the future? Or is the story “historical”? Most publishers consider a novel historical if it takes place before the 1950s. Some may say the 1960s or 70s. It’s debatable. But it’s important to know WHEN the story happens in order to get the setting just right.

My story is “contemporary” as opposed to historical. Although I didn’t name a particular year, it is clear that the story could take place today, last year, next year, etc. Historical novels are very interesting, and I enjoy reading them on occasion. But writing one requires a lot of research into the details of the time period in order to present the story accurately. Writing a contemporary story still requires a good bit of research, too, but it’s a whole different type of research than what is needed for a historical novel.

What times of settings do you like in a story? Is there a particular place or time period that you are drawn to? Or have you ever considered the setting and how it affects a story? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

 

Still plugging away

So, it’s the end of August. How did that happen? Days turn into nights, which turn into weeks, which turn into months. Spring is gone. Summer is gone. It’s almost September.

I love Fall. It’s my favorite season, especially in Georgia, where we get to enjoy the beautiful leaves in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds. It’s been a long, hot summer, and I’m ready for cooler temps, crisp air, and cute sweaters.

I’m still plugging away at getting the manuscript ready to submit to the publisher. Yes, it takes that long. Even longer sometimes.

My critique group is only 4 chapters away from the end of the book, so they should be completely through it in about a month or so. I’m editing, proofreading, re-writing, and editing some more, and starting to think about beta readers.

What is a beta reader, you ask? Well, according to the wonderful “Wikipedia,” a beta reader is: “a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting.”

This does not necessarily include your mother and your best friend – who, by the way, were my “alpha” readers.

Choosing the right beta readers is important, and I have a select few people that the Lord has laid on my heart that I’m going to reach out to in the next few weeks.

In addition to editing and re-writing, I’ve been contemplating a few writers conferences to attend in the coming year and even praying about sending the manuscript to a freelance editor before I submit to the publisher.

Through it all, I’m praying and asking the Lord for guidance and wisdom. This is His work, and I’m just blessed enough to get to come along for the ride and see what He will do with my tiny offering.

As always, I appreciate your prayers and support. Happy Fall, y’all!