Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

The Series Series, Part 5: Tracking Settings

In the last post, we looked at building, developing and maintaining the continuity of characters within a series. Now let’s look at the same thing with respect to setting.

The key to creating an evocative setting – whether real or fantasy – is to incorporate the senses. Many writers describe only what can be seen when it comes to describing a setting, but we experience our surroundings with all our senses, not just our vision.

Just as we discussed creating a character worksheet or file to keep track of character details, the same tool is useful when it comes to settings.  In the Childrens Book Hub, we have Setting Worksheets available for download – but if you’d rather create your own spreadsheet or file for tracking your setting(s), be sure it includes details about the following (and the more specific the better):

  • City/Town/Village
  • Region/Area/Country
  • Buildings – style of architecture, age, materials
  • Room(s) – size, function, décor, relationship/placement, furniture
  • Topography / Landscape – hilly, flat, desert, ocean, forest, etc?
  • Flora and Fauna
  • Climate
  • Year/Time Period
  • Season
  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • Textures
  • Weather
  • History / Historical Facts (what else happened there?)
  • Other details, features or elements specific to this place
  • The “rules of the world” (if fantasy, or different than our world)
Series NavigationThe Series Series, Part 4: ContinuityThe Series Series, Part 6: Tracking Plot Details


4 Responses to “The Series Series, Part 5: Tracking Settings”
  1. Beth says:

    This is an eye-opener, Emma. Thank you for stretching our concept of setting. I will be going into more depth in my settings, based on this (even if all the information doesn’t make it into the manuscript).

    A question I was wrestling with in my middle-grade revision process this morning was how much to pin down as “real” when I’m also including places I’ve invented. For instance, I’ve invented a community center where much of the action takes place, but it is next to what in my mind is a real university. May I name that university? May I refer to a real department there? Or is it better to go generic?

  2. Emma says:

    Beth –

    The point you make about “even if it doesn’t all end up in the manuscript” is key… it’s so important to be really thorough in the homework, in the development and specificity of details, when writing – even if it doesn’t end up being in the final draft. You just never know when one detail may inform or illuminate another one that ends up being important.

    Your question about reality versus invention is a good one. I think the answer, as with most things, is “it depends.” It depends on the context and on the nature of the place or story. For instance, almost everyone the world over knows that the president of the United States lives in The White House, so if the president is a character in your story (or is referenced in any way), even if it’s an invented president, you want him (or her!) to live in The White House. It would simply be too distracting (and arbitrary) to re-invent where s/he lives, or its name.

    However, there are thousands of universities – and I’m not sure what you gain by naming a real one if the community center next door to it is made up. In that case, I would craft a name for the University that is inspired by – or close to – the one you have in mind, so that it feels real but is also safely cushioned by fiction. This is what we did with the Sovereign Theatre in The Great American Mousical, for instance. Though we had a real theatre in mind that we were modeling it after, we elected not to refer to that real one but rather to give ours a name that was in the same spirit – and that of many great Broadway theatres – but was also fictional.

    Hope that’s helpful!

  3. Beth says:

    Very helpful! Thank you, Emma!

  4. Diane says:

    This is an excellent post. While I followed the spreadsheet on the Hub and added some of my own information to it, you have certainly provided me with more things to think about and add. This is excellent for YA as well, ensuring I try not to miss anything or trip over things that would appear obvious to anyone editing.
    In a rough MG I had written a while ago I just used the real name of a theatre while I wait for inspiration to kick in and provide me with a fictional name. Thankyou for clarity on reality vs invention.
    This is like a workshop in progress. I am enjoying this series. Thankyou very much Emma.

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