Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Using Settings from Real Life

I`ve been thinking about setting a lot lately. Most of the settings I create in my writing have some basis in places I've seen or visited. When I'm thinking about a setting in my story, I often choose a place I know fairly well, and conjure up those details in my mind. I've used the inside of a friend's house (they've since moved away), my own backyard, the elementary school my kids went to, and the woods outside a summer cottage we had when I was a kid.

I'm not sure anyone would recognize any of these places in my novels. My setting details create an atmosphere, but they are not specific enough for anyone to pin down a particular place. For the middle grade stories I write, my readers don't need to know a specific city or address. What they need is to feel the simple elements of a place -- its smell, the space it has for running around, whether there are butterflies sunning themselves on the porch, how the big tree in the yard is perfect for climbing, etc. |The details need to bring the story world alive for children.

How do you use details to create setting -- could other people identify your settings or not? Do you think readers need to be able to identify a specific place?


  1. I think I'm kind of like you - I use a general sense of a place along with details needed to evoke what I want readers to feel, but it's not specific enough to identify usually and is sometimes a combination of a couple of different places I've been or seen. I don't think specificity is important unless the story depends on it - like if you're writing about the San Francisco Earthquake then your reader better know you're in San Francisco!

  2. I'm a little "detail challenged" and I'm finding that visiting the real places that resemble my settings are helping a lot. Right now, I'm visiting bakeries. I'm writing notes on smells and of course tastes! :)

  3. Ooh, Karen, that sounds like delicious research!

    Susanna, I think you're right about certain stories requiring specifics of setting. Mostly, my settings are part real and part imagined.

    Andrea (for some reason, my own blog is telling me I don't have permission to use my google account)

  4. You won a copy of Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. from my giveaway! Email your address at berendsen70 at yahoo dot com.

    I liked the simple details you listed - a tree big enough to climb, the butterflies sunning. Details like this are the foundation; anything else in your setting is bonus!

  5. I have allowed places I have visited to influence my settings. I alter them based on what I need them to be for the given scene. If, for example, my characters are at the El stop on Belmont in Chicago, I might make it a bit cleaner for one scene or stinkier for another. It is still a place I have been and remember well.

    You also won an award! Stop on by for details. Congrats!!!

  6. Margo, that's so exciting! Thank you! Sometimes, I think the simple details are what is important, in life as well as in writing.

    Rebecca, thanks for the award! You're so sweet. One of the fun things about writing fiction is the way we can change or twist things to suit a story.



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