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By Gail Gaymer Martin

Finding the Right Setting
Every location can provide the perfect backdrop for certain stories—large cities and small towns, the wintry cold of Minnesota or the sandy beaches of Jamaica. The author must select the location that will best advance the story. Readers are drawn to exotic places and foreign countries but an author can write a better novel if he or she has first hand experience in a similar location.

Small towns lend themselves to friendly neighbors and eccentric characters who pop in and out of the story as they are needed. A suspense might find more opportunities for excitement on a lonely island or in the backwoods. But a reader can make even a familiar location interesting and unique by the perspective. Think of someone’s own home at night in the dark. The familiar becomes strangely unfamiliar. Shadows cause the person to jump or cry out. How the author treats any setting is the key to good writing.

Setting As Character
Setting not only enhances characterization but setting can be a character in the story. If you think of classic westerns where the rugged landscape becomes as important as the rugged cowboys, or think of Jack London’s novel, Call of the Wild, where the setting becomes the enemy and wins. Setting tends to mold and shape characters and often sets up inevitable consequences such as in the story ideas mentioned above.

But this is so even in a small town where gossip grows like fungus and fear of big city life can result in set values for the community and fear of the big city evils. Characters are products of the settings in which they are placed. They begin to think in the style of their social setting, their values are formed and their behavior is created. Change the setting and the story may not work in another location.

Settings set up expectations because of its history and its population. Some settings are important in a novel set in the fashion world and other settings work for a rugged outdoor adventure story. The dangers in both of these settings are different but are alive and influential.

Avoid Common Scene Locations
Writers have a tendency to place their characters into the same settings. Sitting around a table eating a meal can be found in most novels, perhaps because meals are often the main times families get together to hold conversation. Another common scene is riding in a car. It’s a time when the character thinks about what happened or plans their next course of action. Nothing is wrong with these locations, but as you write, try to find new and unique places to place your characters. Or if they are in the kitchen, have the heroine do dishes rather than sitting at the table eating a meal. Be creative—tobogganing, riding on a carousel, sitting in a canoe, riding in an elevator, hiding in a pantry. Surprise your readers with original locations.

Avoid talking heads but establish each scene by letting the reader know time and place as well as how much time has past since the last scene. Use the scene to enhance mood or the character’s emotions. Look for settings that come alive as a unique character of its own. If you accomplish this, you will have mastered using setting to not only create a sense of place but a story element that catches readers and holds on.

Used with permission: Writing Fiction Right Blog by Gail Gaymer Martin


Multi-award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian fiction for Love Inspired and Barbour Publishing, where she was honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has forty-nine contracted novels with over three million books in print. She is the author of Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations and presents workshops at conference across the US. She was recently named one of the four best novelists in the Detroit area by CBS local news.

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