How to Create Outstanding and Authentic Settings
Physical locations are places that occur in the world that are used in your story. Examples can be large-scale such as New York, London, China or small scale such as the San Fernando Valley, Ayers Rock or the park across the street from where you live. To create these physical locations you need to have a strong knowledge of · The weather (I will explain why further on) · The features of the place that are vital to your story · The background features (you will need to know this well) · The culture (what the locals do that sets them apart from others in the region or around the world)
I’m sure you are wondering why you need to know about the weather, so I will go back a bit and explain. When you create your characters you give them a unique wardrobe or, at the very least a clothing item that is unique to them. If you do not take into account the weather, they may be wearing summer clothes in winter or vice versa. It is important to set you story in a season but also to be aware of the clothing that one would wear in that season. The weather can also affect the external challenges your character will face. It will be unlikely that a boating accident will happen to your character if they are in New York in winter! I would not be out in the cold to do that so would your character? The weather may affect your character internally as well; they may suffer depression or have an ailment that flairs up when they are in the cold. They may have suffered a miscarriage and they ache when they see the new shoots emerge from the ground in spring. Extreme weather can force your character to interact with people he detests or make him less likely to do an act in your story. Even if weather plays a small part in your story or it is large, be sure to make the reader aware of the weather.
Many countries and cities around the world have features that are unique to them. Incorporating them (credibly) into your story can make a huge difference. This will mean extensive study and if possible visiting the area that has the main focus of your story. It is not essential however to go to the area, a simple Google search may suffice – as long as you create the sense that your character is there in that place.
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These are features that put your character in the setting, the smell of roasted nuts from a street vendor on a sidewalk in New York, for example. These are small details that add credibility and authenticity to your story. It is important to get the small details correct because your reader will pick up on them, especially if they are familiar with the place.
The area your story takes place in may have cultural differences too, such as time for the main meal may be later, people do not make eye contact on the streets, the jargon they speak or the hierarchy the people respond to when in a group. These points add to the character’s sense of belonging and place in the story.
Interior locations include the main characters house, office and or other place they will frequent during your story. If your character has a quirk, such as playing with a pencil when thinking, there needs to be a pencil holder or other such item nearby when he/she is thinking. They need to have their personality fit the interior of their home. · Do they have pets? · Where does the pet interact with them in the house? · If they have an apartment, why do they have it? · Does it fit into their storyline? What does the character hear, smell and feel in their home/office/car? It is important to include the senses in your locations – both interior and exterior.
Sweat the details
Once you have the location and time for your story think about · What time of day the sun rises and sets in that place? · What are the traffic conditions like during the day? · How do people communicate with each other? · What wildlife is around? · What is the layout of their home like (does it fit in with the location)?
Be as detailed as possible when planning your settings – one mistake, no matter how small and you will lose your reader!