Creating Realistic Settings

Part 3 Settings

Welcome Back! 🙂

Hopefully by now you have your general story idea and a few characters created and ready to go. To me, the setting is the most fun. You have numerous options. How creative do you want to be? Are you starting with an existing setting like London, Australia, San Francisco, or Midwest US? Will you be creating an entire planet on your own? Make sure you ask yourself these types of questions before getting started. But, most importantly, write down everything you brainstorm!

So you’ve got a handle on how in-depth you want to go for your setting. What’s next? Depending on whether you have an existing location or creating an entirely new world will change the process a bit.

For Existing Settings

Choosing a location that already exists like a city, state, region, coral reef, or Sashquach hang-out (yeah, maybe not that one but who knows?) is a great start for a new writer that doesn’t want to take a significant amount of time to create. It also is a great option for post-apocalyptic, romance, and a few other genres.

One thing you will have to do is research. If you have never been to your chosen location, a decent amount of research will have to be done. Not only do you need to know the physical attributes of your setting (sight), you will want to focus on the other 4 senses as well. This will help create amazing descriptions as you introduce various environments in the story.

Sense of sound will be the next step. This doesn’t necessarily require you to look up audio for a busy city (although it may), but you will want to ask questions about what your character will hear. For example, The Wanderer Trilogy is set in a post-apocalyptic Midwest state. And while I don’t need to disclose which state it is, I do know that Midwestern states generally get all four seasons in a year. As for noises, the question I must ask myself is “How many people/animals inhabit (X) setting?” Whether Eva (my MC) is inside her shack (only inhabited by her with occasional secondary characters (SC) coming in and out), or inside a Gang compound (houses hundreds of armed guards as well has hundreds of slaves) – I have to be aware of the bustle of people, the clicking of loaded guns or cracking of whips, and even the chirping of birds or rustling of leaves in the wind. You’ll want to be aware of any sounds/noises you want to convey and write them down.

The next relatively easy sense is touch. What do the buildings/structures feel like? What are they made of? Are they old? New? Have they been warped or changed by the elements? How about the ground? Seasons? Temperature? Everything physical plays a part in this sense of touch. If your environment is a desert, the feeling of hot, dry air will play just as significant a part as the rare but inviting rainfall. Think about how the age of your buildings change it’s texture. An example of my novel is how wood warps after 500 years of spring rain. The city withstood a bombing all those years prior so many of the buildings near the center have been reduced to rubble. The continual storms and other weather patterns will continue to effect what remains of the buildings, long after the bombs detonated.

Whew! Two more to go! You can do this!

Smell and taste? How do you integrate that into your settings. And why bother? Well, these two senses will be used more sparingly than the other three, but they are important when used properly. When your character is hungry and their neighbor is baking a pie with the windows open, sense of smell and taste would be important to convey the level of hunger. You would want your character to be able to smell the pie so well that they could taste it on their tongue. That could make their stomach growl. See? Using the senses conveys the hunger without actually saying “They were hungry.”

In settings where you already have an existing location, these 5 senses are very important. There is research required (especially in regards to the society and subcultures within the city/town/state/etc. that you choose).

Unique Settings/World Building

There are a few things in this section that may or may not be helpful if you are utilizing an existing setting. I found this handy-dandy list of things to focus on in World Building –

world building

Some of these may or may not be relevant to your story, but it definitely gets the juices flowing!

Now, it isn’t just enough to jot down one or two sentences for each point above. You have to dig a ten-foot hole and jump in head first. Smash into the mud and worms of it all… okay I’m done 🙂

Anyway, with each of these topics, expand them! Write multiple types of religions/spiritualities for #15 and pick the best one later. Give yourself more options to single out when you go to outline your novel. And don’t stop at the #17 listed above. That’s just a place to get started! Remember, you are building an entire world or region. Different languages have different dialects which have different slang.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself for each topic:

  1. Language:
    • Does everyone speak the same language? Different languages completely? Dialects between the regions? Slang? Pronunciation differences? Accents?
  2. Origin Tales
    • How did your people/creatures migrate to their region? What is the origin of their magic? How did they adapt to their climate? Does their religion/spirituality change as they migrate?
  3. Folklore
    • Are there specific areas that your cultures do not venture because of curses? Do each regions believe the world was created differently? Any stories passed from generation to generation?
  4. Family Tree
    • Who are your MC’s family? Friends? Other Kin? The Royalty Family Tree? Coat of Arms? Any family rivalries?
  5. Jobs/Professions
    • Depending on the time period, this could change. What type of jobs are needed in your society? Blacksmith or lawyer? Knight or Pizza Delivery Person? How do their jobs impact the story? How does it impact the environment?
  6. Gender Roles
    • Are your people more conservative? Are you switching up the gender roles? Women in the armies and men as homemakers? Or is your society more of an egalitarian culture?
  7. Clothing/Costumes
    • Pant Suit? Jeans and a Tshirt? Renaissance dresses with corsets? What about animal hides?
  8. Weather
    • Is the weather in your story normal? Perhaps something catastrophic happens. Maybe non-stop storms?
  9. Flora & Fauna
    • What type of foliage grows in your city/village? What about animals? Any unusual or unique animal/plants? Do your people use them for medicine or remedies? What about poisons?
  10. Food
    • Are your people fishermen or hunters? Do they go to the store? Does their heritage change their food preferences? How does the culture celebrate holidays with food? Is any food sensual for relationships?
  11. Geography
    • Is the environment mountainous? Perhaps a desert? Maybe a beautiful forest or a beach? How would that change their clothing/food options? How would it change your character’s appearance (more tan because they see more sun, etc.)?
  12. Annual Rituals
    • Think about their religion or spirituality, what or who do they worship? What type of rituals would be celebrated by the village? Are their regional or worldwide holidays? Are their costumes, special foods, or sacrifices associated with these celebrations?
  13. Technology
    • Is this a technologically advanced civilization? How does the overwhelming technology play into people’s daily lives? Can the technology turn on them? Can it make them go crazy? (Don’t just think about computers or cell phones. Think about medicines, vehicles, and foods.)
  14. Animals
    • See Flora & Fauna. Are animals domesticated for food or pets? Do the people ride them for transportation? Can they fly? Where do they live?
  15. Religion/Spirituality
    • Are your people religious? Do they conform to an existing religion like Christianity? Are they Atheist? Do they worship animals? How do they perceive death? Are there wars or battles about whose god or gods are real?
  16. Magic
    • Is the magic energy finite? Can those who use magic replenish their energy? How? Is it elemental magic or elemental manipulation? Can only certain people do magic or can everyone? How does magic change their society?
  17. Politics/Power
    • Is there a council or government? Are their royalty? How do they govern? What about corruption or tyranny? Is the general population free or suppressed? If they are suppressed, will their be an uprising?

The setting development may take some time. And while my last post about character creation said to ‘stay somewhat vague’ the setting development is the opposite. Every single nuance needs to be written down because, if it is not consistent, your reader will catch it. The setting remains fixed (unless there’s a huge event like a meteor) while the characters change. Don’t get discouraged, be creative!

Next post in the Let’s Write a Novel Series will be about Outlining Your Story! I hope it’s getting exciting as you get closer to the 1st draft! I’m excited to see what you’ve been working on! 🙂

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