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Setting and Storyworld

Jen here:

Story world

Story world, quite simply, is the world your story takes place in. In Star Wars, it’s a galaxy far, far way. In my book, Coming Home, it’s 1881 Oregon. It can be as complex as an invented world or as simple as the street blocks between home and school. But a different story world will create a different type of story at every level.


How are your readers going to know your story world unless you tell them about it, right? Wrong. Long (or even short) amounts of description just for its own sake pulls your reader out of the emotional experience. It’s like taking them aside to explain things. Again, if they are in your hero’s skin, they will experience it with your hero. Reveal it like bread crumbs, just dropping a bit as it’s needed.


One of the best ways to let us know that we are in the hero’s skin is through the senses. When you are editing a scene, think a moment about what information all five senses are giving your POV character. Sight and touch are easy and the most overused. But what about smell and taste? You can pull on deep emotions with those. They often evoke strong memories, and you can use that to your advantage. Don’t forget about hearing too.

However, you don’t want a laundry list of all the senses. When you are taking stock, think about which two senses will evoke the greatest emotional experience for your reader. Where in the scene would be the best place to put those senses? Where would they evoke the strongest reaction?

The key is not to just include the senses for the sake of it. But to give them to the reader as a clue as to how the hero is feeling. It all comes back to feelings. The more we know what the hero is feeling, the more we can relate and feel like we are there and in her skin.

Warning: only include things the character can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Don’t write “if only she knew what was waiting for her around the corner.” She can’t see it, so she doesn’t know about it. Neither do we. “She didn’t notice the car following her.” If she didn’t notice it, neither did we.

Even if she can see it, do you need to include it? If you tell us about something, we are going to think it’s important and relevant. So only mention the book on the sidewalk if it’s going to be important or if it’s important that your character noticed it.

Now, what does your character do with this information? Sometimes it’s enough to mention the smell of Mom’s apple pie. But what about a math book laying open on the sidewalk in front of the house? What does your hero think about that? What does she think it means? Is she confused, scared, mad, happy? How would your hero view it differently than other characters? The interpretation of the sense stimulus is just as important the stimulus itself.

Writing emotion follows naturally from writing about the senses because the senses often trigger emotions. And we need to treat writing about them the same way.

Like with any writing exercise, the first step is to just write and be in your creative brain. Then when you’ve had time to let it sit, go back with the editor brain. Be as concrete and descriptive as you can be. Go over every adverb. Can you make the verb stronger? Can you say it in a fresh way?

I bet you can. Now go write something awesome!

Jennifer and the other Pencildancers have just released Worthy to Write: Blank Page Tying Your Stomach in Knots? 30 Prayers to Tackle That Fear. Jennifer's latest books~ Protective Custody: A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com

Settings and Backgrounds

Settings and Backgrounds Take 1
Diana here:

Are you a dialogue writer or one who takes in all the details and puts them down for the reader to experience? I’m a dialogue writer and if I could the books I write would be only that and have little to do with what’s happening around my characters. I had to learn how to balance the delicious bits and pieces of conversation with the setting.

Picture your settings as a character. Once you do that it becomes clear of how important the background becomes.

Would a scary movie be scary if all the characters did was discuss the strange things that are happening in the house? No. But having them discuss the oddities in dialogue filled with tension, and then the bottle on the counter slides towards them makes viewers jump. This works in our stories as well, and we don’t have to have a science lesson to explain it. (The condensation on the bottom of the bottle can make it slide.)

For setting, you have to decide on the mood of the scene. Is it romantic, scary, the hottest day of the year or hurricane weather? Once you decide that you can pull things from the everyday world and let your character share the setting through actions and dialogue.

Right in the middle of the main street sat a public well. With a quick pull on the reins, Travis halted his horse and dismounted. He looped the reins around the saddle horn. His boots squished in the muddy street as he led his companion to the water-filled troughs to drink. The town was quiet, only a few people on the sidewalks. A stagecoach pulled away from the hotel, its wheels sucking mud.

From this example, we know that Travis has been traveling long enough for his horse to need water, and it’s rained hard enough to turn the streets into mud.

I could have written: The street was muddy. But that isn’t enough; we need to see, feel and hear the effects of the rain on the town.

Another example from All in Good Time

Sandra walked Silver Beach. The gray, wet sand weighed down her steps. Everywhere she looked there were couples, old and young, all out to watch the parade of boats. She did some quick math. If her husband had returned from Vietnam, they would have been married forty-eight years this summer. She and Chuck were supposed to grow old together, at least she kept her part of the bargain.
In this piece, we know Sandra’s mood before you to the fact that her husband didn’t return from Vietnam. The wet sand weighs her down, she’s surrounded by couples, and she’s alone.
Your turn. Find a book you love and write down the descriptive phrases in one scene, not to copy and reuse but to get the feel of how your favorite writer pulled you into the scene.
Next up: pull a scene from your current work in progress, and search for places you can have the setting speak louder, now add it. Reread it; it should add more depth to your writing.
It doesn’t take a lot of descriptive phrases to get our setting character to speak. 

Backstory and Prologues

Liz here.

One way many new writers try to get around the problem of backstory as Jen and Diana have outlined it is to throw it all in a prologue. They can't let go of the idea of having that backstory in there. As a result, the industry has pushed the other way. I've heard more than one person say that you should never write a prologue. But should you?

Prologues the wrong way.
If you're writing a prologue to inform the reader of what happened in the character's life before the story opened, that's the wrong reason to write one. If you write one to show what happened to them in the past, that is the wrong reason to write one. If you write one to introduce your readers to the story world and a host of characters, guess what? That's also the wrong reason.

Prologues the right way.
You can give backstory in a prologue, but you have to do it the correct way. A prologue should only be used if there is a large time jump between the prologue and the beginning of the story. The jump could be forward or backward. Also, a prologue should only be used only if there is no other way to give the reader that information. And they should only be used when the information is absolutely critical for the reader to have before the story starts. A prologue that shows an event that directly influences the beginning of the story can work well. A prologue that is merely for the purpose of dumping in backstory doesn't.

Don't be afraid to write a prologue and see if it works. Don't be afraid to cut it if it doesn't. When used properly, they can be great tools to give your reader vital information on your character.