Articles / On Writing

Keep it Consistent – Settings


Your setting encompasses the large and the small in your book. From the state that your story is set in to the town to the home in which most of the story happens. Because you are working with a visual element in a medium of the written word, it can be hard to keep the overall picture straight in your mind, especially if you are in the middle of revisions and it has been months since you wrote the story.

There are some things that you can do to keep it all straight, but it will take some effort on your part. This is where the almighty whiteboard comes back into play. If you are writing about a real place, it would be helpful to have maps of the state and town in which you are setting your story. This way you can make sure that you are relating the position of the town you are writing about correctly. For instance, it would be an awful faux pas if one said Chattanooga was north of Nashville. So yes, maps are a must. The closer your get to your target area, the more detailed the maps should be. This is the moment when a service such as Google Maps is your friend.

But what if you are writing about a place that doesn’t really exist? Well, you are going to have to put on your cartographer hat. Do a rough sketch of the fictitious town. Note on the map where different areas you mention are in relation to the main setting of the story. This way, you won’t get confused as to what direction Character A turns out of the driveway when they are going to Character B’s house.

And you can take it beyond this. I recommend that you map out the major settings in your book. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just a rough sketch that tells you where various rooms are in a home or building. If you want, you can also sketch the rooms in which major portions of the story takes place. This way you can tell at a glance where the bar is in relation to the fireplace, etc.  You may not use these sketches when writing, but they can be a good refresher when you are editing.

Also, like character cards, you may want to create setting cards for the major settings in your story. In these you would describe the building, the materials used to make it, the color, it’s relation to other buildings, history, owners, etc. For rooms, you would want to include a description of the room, the style, color scheme, decorations that are mentioned in the story, etc.  Setting cards are a good place to include your sketches.

It may seem like a lot of work, but I can promise you that you will not remember all these little details about your settings and you may not notice discrepancies in your settings after months of being away from writing your story. Having sketches of your settings and setting cards can be helpful if your editor has recommended major rewrites or additions and it can save you a major headache later on—especially if your editor is not going over your manuscript for continuity and consistency after you make your revisions.

Now back to writing. 🙂


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