Hello Readers. In today’s group post, we are happy to introduce to you our newest Contributor, who is a horror writer! Enjoy!
For today’s Ask Us Pub Questions, Vicky Ross wants to know: I’ve noticed that I like being immersed in settings when readings books, but I don’t think I’ve succeeded in writing immersive settings in my books. How do you get inspiration for settings? Do you use real life places for ideas or how?
So, I am not the world’s best description writer at all. I’ve talked about it before on here about how I just can’t do it. I’m a very character driven writer. However my locations are usually inspired from my hometown. For Take Your Mark, I based the two rival towns over two towns in my area that are actually rivals. The Kaukauna-Kimberly games are legendary. The same as Neenah-Menasha games. (Yes, those are real names. Welcome to Wisconsin. Our town names all sound made up but they are real!)
For my historical novel I was working on earlier this year, I based the island that my main character was from on Doty Island, an actual island in Neenah where people still live on today. A famous hospital is located on the island too. But what I like to do is make those areas my own. I will (horribly) draw a map to help me figure out where everything is and then refer to it in my writing. I give it it’s own character. No place is exactly like Stars Hallow from Gilmore Girls, but you can try and recreate it as your own. (Which reminds me, I should go do that for my current WIP because the maps will be important later on. )
—Briana, The Mystery Writer
I loveee immersive settings! This post on my blog (World-building & Research) shows my obsession with world building pretty starkly. I love reading books that transport me and also love the process of transporting my readers. As a fantasy writer, this is very important to me. To make my settings immersive I focus on vibrant visuals, smell, textures, and taste when applicable—and wrap it up with the character’s reaction to this environment so readers can feel a realness of it.
With my Bonnie & Clyde retelling, one of Amber’s awesome critiques was that the story needed more worldbuilding. I got into that snag because the story is based on a real life setting so unlike my other completely made up places where I know how much is fake, I couldn’t measure what was sufficient and what was too much, so I kept it at the minimum. The moment I got that feedback though, I went to fill up the story with building designs, food, scents, costumes, textures, and sounds. Now, just yesterday, an agent reading the MS listed the world building as one of the things she’s loving about the story. My other secret weapon (which I’m loathe to share!) is the Settings Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Those books (the Urban & Rural Settings Thesauruses) are gold for writers. I hope these help!
—Lucia, The Fantasy Writer!
I think Lucia’s advice is spot on when she says to focus on visuals, smells, textures and taste! This was a tip that my mentors gave me when I was revising my MS because they felt that I could add more richness to the settings – to think about how you would describe the place with all of your five senses. What does the character see? Hear? Taste? Smell? Touch? Basically to feel the world through your characters’ lenses, and through that allow the reader to immerse themselves in that same world!
As for inspirations for settings, I draw them from all sorts of places. They could be places I’ve actually visited before or places I’ve seen through other forms of media (TV, books, drawings). For my fantasy stories the settings tend to be a mish-mash of all these influences, but because it’s a fictional setting, a lot more care has to go into describing the world well so that readers can also visualise this made-up world. I find contemporary settings a lot easier because you can get away with being less descriptive sometimes since readers can fill in the gaps on their own. That said, it helps to throw in small details (again, go back to using the five senses) about your setting to make it stand out!
-Amber, YA/NA SFF!
Such a great question from Vicky! Lucia & Amber hit it spot on. As a horror writer, my characters spend a lot of time in haunted houses, graveyards, & a slew of other eerie locations. Unfortunately, I don’t spend a ton of time in old Victorian manors or cemeteries myself, so I always focus on the senses – like Lucia & Amber talked about – to help my settings feel real. Oftentimes, I can step into the setting in my mind & envision every small detail. How does the air feel? Is it stale & unmoving or rancid & windy? What does the setting sound like? Are spirits screaming & moaning or is there a skin-prickling silence? Imagining these details & touching upon our senses helps me achieve a (hopefully) elaborate setting.
In regards to inspiration, I have had a few settings inspired by the different places I have lived. In my current WIP, my MC has a store in The Village in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This is my favorite, local haven in the Smoky Mountains so I used a ton of inspiration from that lovely spot. Otherwise, I think to my favorite books/shows/movies & use it as inspiration. For instance, the setting of my Poe book is in a haunted house that is inspired by my undying love for Crimson Peak. If I could give any advice, it’s to find what you are passionate about or what inspires you then build a world from there based on the senses you experience or imagine. Happy Writing!
-Demri, The Horror Writer
I love all of the contributors responses! I am a Romance writer. I have written fantasy, paranormal and contemporary romance, and immersive settings are not my strongest suit especially for contemporary, and because of it, I actually force myself to have a rule about it. In each chapter if I notice my character is ‘seeing’ too much, I add smell or taste. When writing romance my main goal is the relationship of the protagonists, but nonetheless I need to know what they love in order to create a well rounded character, so I use their tastes in my character sheet to aid my setting. Say for example my main character loves cookies, so I make her work in a bakery and describe the smell of a fresh baked cookie.
The same goes for fantasy and paranormal, I focus mainly on what my character would focus on, if is a new setting for my character that had only been described on books for them I make them compare it. With all of that I weave also tiny details to push the story forward. Not sure if this is the way to do it but it has worked for me!
-Alex, Romance Writer
I’m loving all the answers to this question, they are very interesting and I enjoyed discovering the way each of my fellow contributors creates the worlds in which their characters live. However, in my case that’s quite different. For picture books, it’s actually the illustrator who contributes the most in this mission. As a PB author, I need to pay attention not to be too descriptive with my scenes, because otherwise the illustrator’s creativity could be limited. So I have to keep in mind to give just those art notes that are totally essential for the story to be understood, without directing too much. There are even occasions in which editors decide to get rid of those notes, because they want to give the illustrators the freedom to create the books’ worlds. So, for picture books authors, we don’t have the final word in the creation of the settings of the stories we write; but that’s okay, because it turns out that illustrators bring their own magic to the team. In my experience with Santiago’s Dinosaurios, Udayana Lugo’s magic wasn’t only in the settings, but also in the characters and it made my story stronger, warmer and with more layers of diversity than what I had envisioned by myself.
One final note, I guess depending on the nature of story, the author may have more to say about the setting. For example, in my Santiago’s Dinosaurios, the setting is a public school in USA, so it doesn’t need a lot of special description. However, Abuelita’s Gift has a setting in Mexico, and in the folklore of the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos. For that story, I was able to add more art notes, not only about how an ofrenda looks, but also what food is there, the smells, the music, the vibes, etc. In this case, we needed to make sure that those important details about the holiday came through for the illustrator. This book hasn’t been illustrated yet, and I can’t wait to see what Sara Palacios will do with it. I’m sure it will be beautiful!
-Mariana, PB Writer