Write What You Feel To Capture The Setting
My sister is often one of my beta readers so I always know I will get a real feel for whether or not my story might work. She is an avid reader of everything from popular best selling fiction to serious, scholarly works, so I know she will know what she likes and doesn’t like in a story. One thing she has particularly noticed in some of my stories is the setting and the way she feels pulled into it when she reads the story. That got me to thinking about how I write my settings. In many ways I feel like the setting must capture me before I can capture it. I have to feel it before I can write it. I place myself in that world and an author can do that too. The answer: Write what you feel.
Put yourself in a particular place, close your eyes and start to feel the sensations a character might feel in that particular location. Where do you start? There are a number of things you can do but they all go back to using all your senses:
- You can always start with weather. That might sound like a cliché but it’s an easy place to begin. What do you consider when you walk out of an airport or car in a city or country you’ve never visited? Isn’t it a question of whether it’s hot, cold or miserable? Whether you need a sweater or you want to take off your jacket?
Then you need to dig deeper.
Think about the feel of the air beyond just hot or cold. Consider whether the heat is dry or steamy, sticky. Think about whether the cold is damp with snow or so frigid you can’t breathe without coughing.
- Next, considers scents around you. Is your location a mountain top in the Pacific Northwest or the crowded market square in Santa Fe, New Mexico? Or are you stuck in a traffic jam in New York City? Again all will bring in different feelings and they will also elicit different sensations for your characters. Sitting on that mountain top must be much more restful than sitting in that traffic jam with a meeting awaiting you in ten minutes while you’re 30 minutes away.
- Think about what you’re hearing? Anything? Or lots of different accents or languages. Again the unique sounds of a place will give the character different sensations. Are you straining to hear the soft breeze rustling the leaves or are you being assaulted by horns and shouts?
Now this brings us to a problem.
If you’re writing about a setting you know well, all of this can be easy. But if you’re writing about a time and place where you’ve never been, that can be tough. In many cases in my writing I’ve stuck to places I’ve been for that very reason. Writing a scene in a television studio or on a Los Angeles beach featuring my TV anchor Kimberly delaGarza was simple since I had spent so much time there.
I would have a more difficult time writing a scene set in 18th century England. Recently I’ve been working on a time travel novel and I realized I was having trouble pulling in the setting. I had little trouble with my characters from the present. They were having a hard time dealing with certain things, but they were all things they could relate to from the present. It was more difficult writing the viewpoint of the people in the past and putting myself in their place.
The answer here is good research, of course,
and there are ways to pull in those sensations from the past into the present. A cold winter day in the mountains is still going to have that same frigid feel as is a sunny day at the beach—no matter the time frame. The sounds might be different, but you can still describe some of those same sensations and then study the rest. And, of course, there are museums to study the real life furniture or garments from the past. But look beyond just the material and how things might be used.
Write what you feel. Place yourself in that world. Think about picking up that heavy jug or eating utensils and consider their feel. For that time travel, I’ve been spending a lot of time in museums and taking myself back to the past and placing myself in the world of those characters.
Setting can come to life, just as much as your characters if you write what you feel and put them both together.
Becky Martinez writes romantic suspense and mystery as Rebecca Grace. She is a former broadcast journalist who turned to fiction writing and teaching writing classes when she retired. She is published in mystery, romance, and romantic suspense with The Wild Rose Press. Her latest book, Blues at 11, is a humorous mystery featuring a TV anchorwoman accused of murder.
She also teaches writing classes and is the co-author of Creating Memorable Characters and the Let’s Write a Story series. The latest entry, The Plotting Wheel, will be available next week.
Blurb for Blues at 11
Kimberly delaGarza is leading a charmed life. As a Los Angeles television anchorwoman her face is well known around the city; she wears designer clothes and lives in a beachside home. But now she has been accused of murder. Her next TV appearance may be in a mugshot, her next outfit may be an orange jumpsuit and her next home may be The Big House. And as she searches for the truth … a vicious killer is closing in.
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