I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wherefore Art Thou?

Happy Friday, y'all! Jenness here, ready to confess that one of my weaknesses when it comes to writing is setting. I want to get to the action, romance, fun dialogue, intense emotional...not describing where all this great stuff is happening. I can see it. Why can’t you?

I guess because you don’t live in my head. Since I’m very grateful for that fact, I suppose I should figure out how to describe things to you. To tell you the truth, when I’m writing, a lot of scenes take place on a shadowed stage with headless people. So when it comes to the second draft, I need to see things a little more clearly before I can help you. Here are some ways that could happen:

Write about a familiar setting. Bliss, my first co-authored book, was mostly set in my hometown. Some of the shops are real, the tree-lined road to the beach is real, the local deli subs truly are amazing, and I lived the whole cleaning-jobs-on-the-Island life. (I never actually met Granny, however, which I should probably be very grateful for, as well.) Setting-wise, this was the most fun book I’ve written. I could see things more clearly, and I got to share my love for a real-life place.

Keep a notebook. For those organized, school-supply lovers among us. Find magazine pictures—home d├ęcor, travel, etc.—that fit your story. Make sections in your notebook and keep it handy to refer to.

I don’t get many magazines, I’m not very organized, and my traveling budget is limited. Thank goodness for the internet! Millions of options there. Here are a few places to get started:

Pinterest. Yes, I’m addicted. I admit it. I haven’t gotten into posting much about my stories in there yet, but I plan to. Think about all the options. Your characters’ homes, their furniture, their city, their vehicles…all on a digital scrapbook. B&H started doing this for the Bloomfield series (read more about that here, and find the boards here), and one of my Garden Club character’s yard is taking shape as I run across pictures that just feel right. Seeing the other authors’ in the series post pictures from around the square, etc., helps me to see the town more fully in my head. The online version of the notebook.  

Youtube. Know where you want to place your story? Look it up on Youtube.com. You never know what you might find. Historical footage, festival fun, boring but helpful tours by moped…Who knows? It might spark a twist that surprises even you.

Home planning sites. There are many sites (like this one) that give you tons of blueprint options. My co-author and I are working on a trilogy revolving around a plantation. Which means we kinda need to figure out where everything’s at inside that big old house. Before we resort to drawing an undecipherable map, we can look for blueprints to base it on.  

Tripadvisor. For real-life settings, look up the city on tripadvisor.com. There you’ll see which restaurants are the favorite hang-outs, which hotels not to stay at, get ideas what to do and where to go, see snapshots (as opposed to promo pictures) of food and places, and read reviews which just might give you a feeling for local life.

Google Earth and Google Maps. Check out the former to get the lay of the land, see the buildings and terrain, etc. Use the latter to get more of a street view.  

Facebook. You've got friends all over. Use 'em! Ask, and I'm sure they'll be happy to tell you all about their neck of the woods. It's gotta be more fun than playing Farmville.

Your turn! How do you make the setting come alive for yourself and for your readers?


  1. Love the resources you suggested, Jenness!

    Setting is one of my stronger areas of writing...so much that I need to tone it down at times to keep the pace of the story moving forward. I love word painting.

    I use a lot of images to help me capture the type of setting I'm looking for. For characters, I use Google images. For home and yard settings, I look to Pinterest. For hometown settings, I look in my backyard--my fictional town of Shelby Lake is loosely based on the area where I live.

  2. Great resources! I usually Google places, but duh! I never thought to use YouTube! :)

  3. These are great resources, Jenness. I like the things you mentioned that could be looked up--popular restaurants, the hotels no one stays at. Wow--settings within settings. :) Thanks for sharing them!

  4. I've used google, but there's nothing like using a setting in a place you know. My most recent story is set in San Antonio, a place I've visited often. I even took notes on my last stroll down the river walk. But I love the idea of using You Tube! Great tip, Jenness.

  5. This is some fantastic info! Totally love when writers share their secret weapons!

    Great post, Jenness.

  6. Thanks for these good and well-expressed ideas, Jenness. Now I got to walk thru a lava tube, but before I got to, I travelled down a long dark shadowy one under Mt. St. Helens via YouTube and found that they got it just right--except maybe for cold clammy temps.
    Thanks and blessings on your writing.

  7. Great suggestions, Jenness. I've bookmarked this post! I'm like you when it comes to descriptions, especially setting.