Creating the Story: Setting

I know, I’m a day late. Well, perhaps you’re not aware of it, but I’m trying to get my blog written on a Saturday. Not sure what happened yesterday, but time got away from me.

Anyway, I’m here today to talk about the story setting. There are tons of choices when it comes to a setting and, in some respects, it depends on the type of story you’re writing. For instance, if writing a sci-fi or fantasy the setting is more likely to be another planet, an Earth in the past or future, or a world that is slightly twisted or different in some way. What all these places have in common, though, is that they have to seem real to the reader.

In my first novel I chose to place my characters in a city that actually existed and at the present time, but you have to be careful with this because readers are watchful and they’ll catch you out. To do this it’s best if you have a familiarity with the place or, if you can afford it, take a trip and spend a few weeks there. Now, that’s not to say you want to necessarily use individually owned shops, restaurants, etc… that actually exist because this can get sticky and might even involve permissions. It is fine, however, to mention street names, perhaps churches, natural landmarks, business parks, etc..If a reader has been to the town and they recognize a street name the story becomes that much more real to them.

In some respects, I found it easier to invent my own village, which I did in my second novel. This leaves you having to come up with the layout of the place and street names. You also have to come up with shops, hotels, restaurants, pubs, churches, schools, or whatever else your town needs. Obviously, only the businesses your character becomes familiar with, places that enter the story, need to be described in some detail.

Now that that’s been said, you’ll need to stock those businesses with people. Technically, these are considered secondary characters, but their mannerisms, quirks, conversations, add to the feel of the place so, in some ways, I consider them part of the setting.

All right, so you have some ideas for street name and shops, but you can’t entirely pull them from your imagination. That is to say, if your story takes place in a small town in Scotland, for instance, your businesses have to mirror that. There probably wouldn’t be a Baptist church, there won’t be a Wall-mart, and there will be pubs and a take away or two. If the town is too small, there would probably be a primary school, but the older kids might have to be bussed to a bigger place for secondary school. Do a bit of research first and save yourself trouble later.

You’ll have to think about natural elements as well. To some extent this can be made up, but if the region you’re placing your story in doesn’t have a large river or grow any kind of evergreen tree, you don’t want to add these in. Again, do a bit of research to find out what the landscape is like and what type of wildlife resides in the area. It’s these little details that really bring  a place to life. Also, keep the climate in mind and the time of the year. You won’t want your characters wearing shorts and a t-shirt when the temperature should be in the  mid 40s.

Once you have a solid setting you can start working on the story plot itself, which I will be covering in my next couple of writing blogs.

Good writing.

Rose Connelly

Creating the Story: Part Two-Characterization

Ah, the characters, probably the most important part of a story. Sure a plot can chug along without decent characterization, events can happen, an ending can occur, but you won’t draw the reader in. In order to have a story that people want to read you must have characters that they become invested in. That they can relate to.

There are many writing sites out there that suggest making up character sheets (you can download and print these it at many websites-just run a search). These nifty little pieces of paper are a good thing to use when you first start out. I suppose many people find them handy throughout their writing career, but my style tends to be a bit more haphazard as I’m sure I’ve already mentioned.

Anyway, these sheets include basic things like the name of your character(s), height, weight, hair and eye colour, birthday, address, parents’ names, job, etc…. In addition, they can also include things like likes and dislikes in music and food, hobbies, political and ideological beliefs, best and worst experiences and how they have affected the person, past relationships…you get the idea.

These individualistic traits are really what you need to focus on, but don’t mention them: show them. Give your character a strange like, a fear that others relate to, an annoying habit, a funny quirk; things that make them seem human and not just two-dimensional constructs. This is what will ultimately draw the reader in and make them feel invested in your characters and, hence, the story.

Now it may seem somewhat of a waste creating this laundry list of traits. When you have a story that you’re burning to write do you really want to halt the creative flow and do something so mundane? My answer is yes because you know what this does? Besides giving you a sort of ‘character blueprint’ to refer back to, it helps prevent that horrible moment when you turn on your computer or open your notebook and nothing comes.

Say, for example, that your heroine is horribly afraid of spiders (I know, simplistic example, but I’m merely trying to make a point so cut me a little slack). You can obviously have a scene where she must confront one or a nest of them. This would lead to the question of how she got into that situation in the first place (another scene or two). If she’s allergic what happens? What if the hero appears, desperately wants to save her, but he’s afraid or deathly allergic? He saves her anyway and exhibits selflessness and bravery. Then what happens? In showing one interesting character trait you could potentially have pages and pages of text.

Don’t forget, though, that your main characters don’t exist in a vacuum. They interact with secondary characters, live in a house, an apartment, a trailer, a hotel. Their story plays out somewhere. This is something I’ll be discussing in my next ‘creating the story’ blog: the setting.

Until then I hope you found the blog enjoyable, informative or both.

Rose Connelly

New Book

Well, “A Blush of Magic” is finished, the query and synopsis have been written and edited and I have submitted it to Sourcebooks for consideration. I’m glad that it’s done, but I actually feel more relief that I now have time to concentrate on my next project. I love the writing process-despite the fact that I sometimes hate it-I know that seems a bit backward. Anyway, once the manuscript is finished, the rest is just a necessary pain. The synopsis especially. It took me over a week to get four pages written, but it’s kind of the antithesis of the creative process. You’re trying to condense hundreds of pages down to just a few.

For now, though, I’m going to just try and forget about it until I need to do it again for my next book (of course, there’s always the hope that I get published and I won’t have to).

Anyway, onto my new book. I seem to be moving into a more paranormal/fantasy based theme, which I’m just fine with as I love fantasy; and isn’t the perfect love a bit like a fantasy? I’m never sure what story I’ll do next as I have notes scattered through notebooks on a dozen stories.

The story I decided to do is really one that was already written (by me not plagiarized). Almost a year ago I wrote this short story in the hopes of submitting it for a writing contest. I managed it, but I wasn’t happy with it so I didn’t submit. My sister read it and told me that it had the potential to be a good story, but it felt condensed, unfinished. I thought about it and realized that it didn’t want to be a short story; it wanted to be a novel. It will now get the chance.

The story is of an hereditary witch, Seraphina, who lives in the highlands of Scotland. She is not what one might think of a witch. She looks like a college student, plays an online game as a warrior when she gets frustrated, and has a thriving website selling amulets, candles, magic-infused objects, etc… She also likes loud music (as well as traditional Celtic music). She was raised by her gran and knew from a young age that a man would come into her life who would either be the love of many lifetimes or her death and destruction.

Jake’s father is Native American and his grandfather is a powerful medicine man. Jake started having strange dreams and was able to sense things at a young age, but his mother, a social anthropologist, feels he is being indoctrinated, led to believe in things that don’t exist, so she takes him away.  He grows up suppressing his powers and telling himself the world is rational and logical. He becomes a police officer and is at least somewhat content until his half-brother is brutally murdered on the reservation. The investigation is eventually called off at the insistence of his grandfather (who claims the attack was the work of an angry spirit in retribution for something his half-brother has done).

When Jake continues to investigate he finds himself waking up in this grandfather’s home, hearing that he has developed a thin spot in his magic shield. Of course, Jake doesn’t believe this and he’s still angry that his grandfather was so sure his half-brother’s death was the work of something paranormal. He quits the force and embarks on a quest to debunk the paranormal. This eventually leads him to Seraphina.

He will have to overcome his cynicism and accept the part of himself he has ignored for so long or risk loosing a woman he is quickly coming to love to a power-hungry spirit.

I’m currently researching and outlining, but looking forward to writing the book.

 

Rose Connelly

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