Setting

Question: How can I plan how can I plan and develop the setting for my novel?


Answer: The best settings to use are places you are intimately familiar with, because you can incorporate authentic details into your stories, such as the sounds, smells, sights, climate, wildlife, and architecture of the place, as well as your knowledge of its people and culture.

Second-best is to create a fictional setting that is based on a real place you are intimately familiar with, again because you can incorporate many of the same details, while altering it a little to suit your story. For instance, you might choose a high school that's similar to the one you went to, or an office similar to one you worked in, or a small town loosely based on the one you live in.

If you want to use a real place which you have never been to, or a historical setting, then you will need to do research. You can be certain that some of your readers will be very familiar with whatever real setting you choose, and if you get your facts wrong it will be a real letdown for them, and it could earn you some poor reviews.

You can get an overall sense of a place from online resources, such as Google maps, photographs, encyclopedias, etc. Much better are travel articles or people's accounts of visiting a place, because these often contain more of the kind of details you need to create an authentic representation.

Just be warned, nothing beats going there in person.

For historical settings, you can often find good books that describe a place at a particular time. Make friends with a reference librarian who can help you find sources such as people's letters, diaries, the literature of the time, historical maps, artwork, etc. You'll want to know all the little details of people's lives--what they ate, what they wore, their customs, class distinctions, etc.

If you are writing some form of fantasy or science fiction, your world-building challenge is different again.

Keep in mind that cultures are often shaped by their environment, so you may want to start with a certain climate and terrain in mind. Then look at examples of cultures that sprang up in such places. Ask yourself how the climate, the material resources, the food supply, etc. would affect the culture? You may want to make maps.

The anthropologist George P. Murdock came up with a list of 50 or so aspects common to every human culture. If you can get hold of his list, it's worth considering how these aspects will look in your fictional culture. (Some people like to make drawings of things like villages, clothing, tools, etc.)

Just beware: world-building can be fun, but it can also take a long time. Don't let it become an end in itself. You want enough detail to be able to create a consistent, logical, and authentic world for your main character to more through, but parts of the world that don't appear in the story can be drawn with broader strokes.

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