thepalekingofvintage said:

How do write in a setting you've never been?

Well, that depends if it’s a real place or a made-up place.

If it’s made up, you get to make it up, so the important part is documenting what you make up. Draw maps, even if they’re just horrible sketches because you have no drawing talent. Mark down where you put each building in the town you’re describing. Keep notes about everything so you don’t contradict yourself later, from the number of windows on the library to the color of the grass.

You also need to remember that this setting should fit in the world you’re writing in. So if you are writing a fantasy world, go ahead and have blue grass. Just make sure that grass is supposed to be blue in this world. (And if you can come up with a logical reason why, even better!) If you’re writing a made-up town in the real world, you shouldn’t have blue grass. (Unless it’s Kentucky bluegrass, which is actually green.) But if you’re writing a made up place in the real world, you need to be sure everything fits with the real world. This will require some research, but you can probably take most of what you know about your town and extrapolate, and just check to be sure the principles are the same wherever you set your fictional place.

If you’re writing a real place you’ve never been, that’s much trickier. You’re going to need to do a lot of research. Start with Google Earth and view the town in street view. That’ll help you get the layout, building descriptions, etc. Once you have that, you need to find out about attitude, ambiance, etc. Every place is different. Even places where people are generally laid back or uptight are laid back and uptight in different ways.

The best way to find out about attitudes and places your character should or shouldn’t go is to talk to people who live there. Or if your character will be a visitor, talk to people who have visited frequently. Post on the internet asking for help. Someone will know someone who knows someone who lives/visits there and would be willing to email. Find the contact information on the area’s tourism info website, and contact them. Tell them you’re writing a book set in their city and ask if they’d mind answering a few questions.

When you call or email, have your questions ready. Be polite. And don’t be upset (or at least, don’t be upset publicly or take it out on anyone) if they can’t help you. Ask how they’d like to be credited in your book. If they say they’d like to be, be sure to include it.

Research the history of the area. Check out the chamber of commerce website to see what businesses are in the area. Look up local news online and watch the videos. Find out everything you possibly can about that place, so it comes through when you read the book.

If you’re a fangirl/fanboy, pretend that place is your favorite celebrity. You want to know everything possible about it, so you’re going to watch every single video you can find from there and about there. You’re going to read the quotes that come out from there. You’re going to research what it would take to visit there. And when you know everything you can, you’re going to write your story about there. 

After you write the book, get someone from the area to look it over for anything that jumps out at them as wrong. Again, be polite and offer to credit them in the book.

It will be a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. People who live there will notice what you get right… and what you get wrong. Short of actually going there, extensive research is the best thing you can do.

And if you have the money to travel and live in the US, it would likely be tax deductible to visit a place to do research for your book. (Consult a tax adviser for details. I’m not one.)

anonymous said:

any tips on creating a fictional town in america? I went through the settings tag and couldn't find much

Pick a Region: (Italicized states could fit into more than one group, depending on who you ask, and some people list more or less regions than the ones listed below)

  • Northeast: New York, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey
  • Midwest: Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma
  • Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada
  • South: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware, Louisiana, Arkansas, 
  • West: California, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana
  • Non-Contiguous: Alaska, Hawaii

Once you’ve got your region, narrow it down by state. You don’t have to get more specific than that if you don’t want to, but your character’s world will give away what region they’re in and possibly the state based on clues. Here is what you should know when creating your fictional town in a region/state:

  • Environment: Know the environment of your region or state. There are no wolves (except for isolated incidents) in areas like the lower Midwest, so it would be odd for your characters to come across a pack of wolves in a southern Wisconsin forest.
  • Climate: There are tons of different climates around the US. If the area of your town is specific (like how South Park is a mountain town in Colorado), you’ll need to know more about that climate. If your characters are in a temperate region, you just need the seasons to change depending on the timeline of your story. If your characters live in a region where heavy snowfall is common, snow days at school will be rare.
  • Culture: Slang, common religions, architecture, food, popular music, references (to nearby cities, sports teams, etc.), etc. vary by region, by state, and by city. Some slang is only found in certain cities or certain regions of a state.

Type of Town:

  • Rural: Rural towns are found in the countryside, often with low populations. 
  • Suburban-Rural: These are a mix of suburbia and the countryside. Houses may be placed farther apart, the town might be larger than a suburb without having a larger population, and there may be small businesses.
  • Suburban: Suburbs are just outside cities and large towns and are primarily residential, meaning there are not a lot of businesses. In the US, it’s typical for suburbs to have single-family homes (though there are multi-family homes sometimes), sidewalks, and gaps between houses. Suburbs are a favorite for authors, especially YA authors.
  • Suburban-Urban: These are between the “true” suburbs and the city, often sitting on the border of the city. They have residential areas, but also everything you might find in a city such as busy streets, public transportation, several businesses, and buildings. You’re more likely to find multi-family homes and apartment buildings in suburban-urban towns than you are with suburban homes.
  • Urban: Urban towns aren’t necessarily in the heart of the city (the main tourist areas). Urban neighborhoods, towns, villages, etc., vary greatly by city and each one has its own unique culture and demographics, especially if there is a large population of immigrants in the area. Some urban towns can resemble suburban towns.

When you’ve got your town, draw a map for it. Note important places, like schools and the homes of characters. If your characters are in a suburb or a suburb-urban town, pick either a real city or a fictional city in a real state to put it around.

If your characters are in school and you want a lot of characters, pick an urban, suburban-urban, or suburban town. For the last one you can have more than one suburb share a school. If your character works at a place like a major law firm, they’ll probably need to be near a city. Think about what your character needs to pick a town.


  • Name: If you know what region your town is set in, look at the names of real towns around that area. They usually follow a pattern. The name of the town can be the name of schools, businesses, streets, and parks too.
  • History: If needed, come up with a history for your town. You might not think you need it at first, but it can come in handy. For example, if you need your characters to be at an event, there can be a party for the town’s 100th birthday. The age of the town might also determine the architecture.
  • Appearance: In the town I grew up on, every property had at least one (big) tree on the front lawn thus creating an arch of branches and leaves over every residential street in the summer. What does your town look like? Are there boulevards? Parks? Fences? Alleys? Driveways? Streetlights? Public transportation? Tall houses? Wide houses? Large properties? Small properties? Is it hilly or flat? While there may be a combination of all of these things, certain traits may be more dominant or typical.
  • Activities: What is there to do in your town? Is there a popular hangout? Is there a beach nearby? Do people go to a nearby city for fun? Are there certain areas within the environment (cliffs, clearings in a forest, a lake, etc.) that are popular hangout spots?
  • Keep track of all facts: Write down everything about your town so that you don’t end up with inconsistencies. Keep a list of schools, businesses, public places, government buildings, and everything else that is relevant.

Your town has to be realistic. Readers should have an idea of where this town is or what is near it. A suburban town in the middle of nowhere with no mention of where it is and varying ecosystems isn’t realistic. It’s surreal, distant, and might only work in certain fantasy genres. A town with a population of 15,000 people, but with four middle schools, two churches, a mosque, a synagogue, two law firms, no variation in economic or social class, eight restaurants, and a car dealership is unrealistic unless this small town is used as a center for several other towns.

sxtrovert said:

Okay, so I recently began writing a new story (after shamefully abandoning a previous story with over 30k words) and I'm a little stuck on something pretty trivial. There's a scene in which two characters are walking to a nearby location and talking to each other along the way. My issue is that the scene is basically 70-80% dialogue, which I think makes it boring and would have readers skipping lines. Is there any way I can bring the scene to life? Thanks in advance.

Well first off, make a list of all of the information this scene delivers unto the reader.

For example,

  • The reader learns there is a great war brewing in the east.
  • The reader learns that Jo has budding feelings for John.
  • The reader learns that hunters frequently poach the woods, looking for…

Then ask yourself if all of this information really needs to be conveyed via dialogue. I’m gonna stick with those things for my scene to use as an example. It’s not gonna be the best writing in the world, but the purpose is just to show you how to work with scenes where there is due to be more dialogue than there has been previously.

Keep Them Talking

The first point about the war could be relayed through conversation alone since there isn’t likely to be a news broadcast in the middle of nowhere. In this instance, word of mouth is the most likely source for the information, so you don’t have to avoid dialogue at all costs. By all means, use it!

'Things are tense now,' said John.

He had his back to me, his gaze trained on the sun as it rose behind the distant mountains.

'They've closed their borders for fear of invasion from the north. There's no way we're getting through that passage today.'

Just don’t make it black and white. Tease information, so that the reader can draw their own conclusions. I don’t have to say, ‘there is a war brewing in the east’. John looking eastward and speaking of closed borders and invasion makes that clear enough.


The feelings of one character towards another are things you can layer underneath the scene. Rather than getting a character to shout, ‘I hate you!’ or ‘I care about you!’, try and show their brewing hatred - or affection - in other ways.

He looked thin and frail, and the wound at his arm still seeped through the precarious bandage I’d tied the night before. Pulling my jacket tighter around my waist, I hid the torn part of my shirt out of sight.

'We should keep going,' I said. 'There's a town not far from here -'

'And what if we're seen?'

'You can't carry that injury for much longer. It's already infected.'

'Then I'll lose my arm.'

'Don't be ridiculous.'

I shoved him hard, knocking him a step off balance. It would have been more fitting for me to keep the distance between us, but I closed it with a sure stride. I teased the bandage at his arm and re-tightened the knot…

Rely on Your Setting

You say your characters are walking from A to B, so what kind of things around them can speak on their behalf? I listed that in my scene, there are hunters around, poaching the woods for something specific. It’s not likely that John or Jo would know everything about the landscape or what is to come, so they can see it or hear it instead, right?

Already, I have a fair bit of dialogue in my scene, but it can be broken up with description or internal monologue to keep it from coming across as a ping-pong dialogue segment.

Where the track had once been uncertain, a pathway of flattened grass opened up beneath the tree boughs. John shielded his eyes from the jabbing rays of the sun. If I hadn’t kept my gaze low, I might never have caught it. With no time to explain, I wrapped my arms around his waist and dragged him a few steps back.

'Idiot,' I seethed. 'You almost lost your foot as well as your arm!'

He broke free of my hold and stared ahead, aware of the toothed, metal trap concealed well by the long grass.

'Hunters?' he wondered aloud. 'It's unusual for them to be this far out.'

I shivered. ‘Let’s just get out of here already.’

'Yeah,' he agreed. 'Rumour says they're raised in darkness. They see in the night better than they see during the day.'

I caught a laugh in my throat, then stifled it. Hurt softened his expression for a brief moment, before he continued to walk on ahead. I trotted to keep up…

My examples aren’t the best, but I hope you can see now that dialogue segments can still be kept interesting (this being the operative word when it comes to my quick writing, but you know what I mean, ha ha!) without it all being supported by talking alone.

To recap:

  • Use the five senses. Sometimes taste is a difficult one to put in there, but make sure your characters are taking in the world around them as they walk through it. Give your reader a strong setting, so that they can visualise the world you have created and also learn through the dialogue and the things your characters perceive.
  • Break up the dialogue. Without indicators or any kind of movement between characters, your reader might struggle to keep up with who is talking and when. This in itself should keep the scene from being too dialogue-heavy.
  • Subtext. Try not to have the dialogue too black and white. Make your reader work for their information, and also use the opportunity to show them some character development and character interactions. This will keep the dialogue pieces interesting and also motivate your reader to pay attention as they learn new things about the characters and their feelings for one another.

I hope this helps you out…! Best of luck.

- enlee

How to Introduce a Setting

The important thing to remember is that you do not need to spend paragraphs in the beginning of your novel introducing your setting. Only give your readers what they need to know right away to understand the story, then you can gradually introduce the other aspects of your setting over time. Focus on where your character is, what is important about the setting at that moment, and how the setting either hinders or helps your character in that scene.

Remember that your setting also includes people and their ideologies. People interact with the setting of your story in a specific way and it should be explored. 

Here are a few ways to practice introducing your setting:

  • Pick a place you’re familiar with and write down details you think are important.
  • Imagine that you need to describe that setting to someone who has never seen it before. What would be important? What would be worth mentioning? Focus on these points.
  • Write a paragraph of that setting you would find in an advertisement. Why would people be interested in it? After that, write a negative review from someone who has visited that place. Why don’t they like it? What might be bad about that place?

Setting is not just about location, it’s about everything that can be experienced in your scene. What time is it? What’s the weather like? Is this place creepy? Is it warm and inviting? It helps to focus on the feel of a place, not just it’s physical location. 

Hope this helps!

Southern Gothic Genre


Gothic Fiction: Gothic fiction (sometimes referred to as Gothic horror) is a genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. As a genre, it is generally believed to have been invented by the English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. (Wikipedia)

Southern Gothic Fiction: Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South

Books of the Genre

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

As a Southern Gothic novel and a Bildungsroman, the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the American Deep South. (Wikipedia)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

[The novel] addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including Black Nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity. (Wikipedia)

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Written in Charlotte, North Carolina in a house on East Blvd, it is about a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a 1930s mill town in the U.S. state of Georgia. (Wikipedia)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The novel narrates main character Janie Crawford’s “ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny.” [The novel is] set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century. (Wikipedia)

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

The story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher names Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Hazel Motes founds The Church Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel’s existential struggles. (Publisher)

The sections below were taken from this PDF document.

Characteristics of Southern Literature

  • A focus on Southern History
  • Significance of family
  • A sense of community and one’s role within it
  • A sense of justice
  • Religion and the burdens/rewards religion often brings
  • Issues of racial tension
  • Land and the promise it brings
  • A sense of social class and place
  • Southern dialect

Southern Gothic

  • Uses the macabre, supernatural, grotesque, and ironic to examine the values of the South
  •  Known for its damaged and delusional characters
  • First popularized by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ambrose Bierce
  • Portrays a world in ruins
  • Often deals with the plight of those who are ostracized or oppressed by traditional Southern culture
  • When southern gothic authors examine the human condition, they see the potential to do harm.
  •  Morality is in question for many characters.
  • A major theme for southern gothic writers hinges on innocence, and the innocent’s place in the world — they are often asked to act as redeemer.

Elements of the Southern Gothic Genre:


In most southern gothic stories, there is a pivotal character or someone close to them who is set apart from the world by a disability or odd way of seeing the world. You won’t meet very many “normal” characters in the writings of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote or Carson McCullers—and this is by design. This fascination with the outsider is in many ways used to show readers not only the individuality of the southern culture, but also to connect each reader to their own unique “freakish” nature.


This is often both literal and figurative. While many southern gothic tales include an incident where a character is sent to jail or locked up, there are also several gothic characters that live in fate’s prison without hope of parole.


Southern gothic writers covered a period in the South’s history when violence was particularly prevalent. After the bloodshed of the Civil War, and the period of reconstruction that followed, racial tension and fear ran high in many small southern towns. This plays its part in many of the stories of this genre.

Sense of Place

It wouldn’t be southern gothic if you didn’t feel like you’d been thrust in the center of a dusty, peach-scented, lonely downtown where porch-bound widows rock gently on creaky rockers, rusty pick-up trucks drive by filled with grimy farmhands, the general store is run by the town drunk, and flies and mosquitoes circle glasses of ice-filled lemonade. The sense of place is strong—awash in calm, pregnant heat, lost dreams and wayward souls.

Using the 5 Senses to Create Setting

This post is actually going to be quite simple, yet sometimes it seems we miss the most obvious of things, doesn’t it? I’ve discussed character development briefly in a previous post (3 Tips For Creating Believable Characters), but another important element to a great story is……SETTING! Yes, it is the literary element that I drill into my students’ heads as “time and place.” However, setting is so much more than just those two elements! How do you create a believable setting? How do you use words to create a vivid picture in your reader’s mind? I’ll tell you a tip I teach to my students: IMAGERY!

What is imagery, you ask? It is just as it sounds, creating an image. But how does one do that? With your 5 senses! Let me elaborate.

1. See: This one is obvious. What does the setting look like? Sure, you can write that it is Shakespeare’s time late 1500s or you can describe it. You can say: "The blonde, lithe woman pulled her long, red skirt out of the way as a horse and carriage clomped down the dirt road on its way to the Globe theater for tonight’s performance." I just created a picture in my reader’s mind as opposed to simply giving the time and place.

2. Hear: Instead of saying: the glass fell to the floor; you could say: the glass clattered to the floor. Is it raining? Does the rain pound against the roof? Is the wind howling? Birds singing? People crying/laughing/talking? Be specific.

3. Touch: The fabric was rough beneath her fingers. BORING! How about the fabric was a coarse burlap that scratched the skin or the fabric was a smooth silk that wrapped her skin in cool luxury? Don’t forget temperature is also a touch sensation: hot, cold, burning, tingling, so on and so forth.

4. Smell: This one can be a bit tough sometimes and may require thinking out side of the box. For example, when describing a library think of the things of which books (old) are made: fabric, leather, paper—they may smell musty or dusty or musky. When describing a person describe their smell to the reader: smelled of stale cigarettes and cheap perfume or smelled of fresh-cut grass and laundry. Smell can really make a place or person come alive.

5. Taste: By far a favorite of the senses and maybe one of the easier to write about. Sweet, salty, bitter, tart, sour? The ice cream was cool, syrupy, and sweet as it melted down his throat. Or maybe the fear rises up like something bitter in the back of someone’s throat?

As you can see taking the 5 senses into account when writing will really help with creating IMAGERY in your reader’s mind’s eye. It will help establish setting, create more vivid characters, and enable your writing to be more descriptive. I hope you found this post helpful! Happy writing!

anonymous said:

I want to develops my settings so it won't seem likeim rushing through the chapter but also isn't dripped with sugary description any advice please?

Ah… this is always going to be a tricky thing to give a definitive answer on.

Usually, I stick with mentioning what is important and what the character/narrator is likely to, or needs to notice.

That probably sounds very confusing and not like a good answer at all. Mainly because it isn’t - what I do might be totally different to what somebody else does…

Keep it Simple

If you have a narrator who embellishes things or has a very poetic way of speaking, then sugary descriptions might be the right thing to do from scene to scene. Generally though, I think it’s less overwhelming for the reader if the description is simple and concise, especially if you have a lot to say and not very many words to say it in.

Bear this in mind if you’re, for example:

  • Throwing a present-day character into a past/future/alternate world where the differences will be massive;
  • Introducing the reader to a whole new universe including new customs, races, geography, etc;
  • Taking your main character into another world that exists alongside the current one (for example, how there was a ‘Wizarding world’ and ‘Muggle world’ in Harry Potter).

It’s way too easy to think, ‘I have to describe everything now!’ but chances are, your reader can live without witnessing creative greetings between your self-created races for a few more pages. So focus on the here and now and describe as and when it is necessary to do so.

Walk in their Shoes

If you have a tendency to rush from one end of the scene to the other, step back for a moment and put yourself in your character’s shoes. You’ve created the setting, so you’ll know exactly what kind of things they’re likely to walk past as they move from one point of action to another.

Make a list of all the things they might see and then weave it into your writing, like so:

'I can't believe we just -'

She pushed her hands into her hair and cast a look of disbelief to the bough-protected sky. Her fingers were still grey with dirt, her face a patchwork of grass stains and mud scratches. Somewhere along the chase, she had lost a shoe, her heel ground deep into the edge of a slick bog.

'Watch your step.'

With a gentle skip, she planted herself onto safer ground, a stone that set the beginning of a paved pathway into the forest. She glanced my way.

'Looks safe enough.'

'I'm not sure.'

I turned back towards the ascending rooftops of our village, the hill now more like a mountain from the distance we had covered.

'Maybe we should go back.'

'And get into trouble all over again? No thanks.'

She dusted off her dress and ducked under the tendrils of an old willow, examining the endless rows of trees, full of a wonder that I couldn’t feel beneath all of my fears. Obscured by the wilderness, I was forced to follow her, or risk being caught at the mouth of woodland, the stale loaf still tucked beneath my arm.

'Hey, wait up…!'

Her laugh echoed back in the dusky gloom, almost drowned out by loud birdsong. Every breath I took was thick with pollen, until we reached a sun-drenched clearing…

That’s not the best writing in the world, but I hope it at least serves the purpose of showing how you can sew in details of the setting alongside the action.

Strike a Balance

Sometimes, you might need to rely on blocks of description. Not everywhere is a talking zone, but try to break up your detail on the setting with inputs of thought or dialogue. That way, it doesn’t get too description-heavy, and nor does the scene move too quickly.

I hope this helps…

- enlee

anonymous said:

Was there a guide somewhere about how to write in cities that you've never visited? Or am I just making this up? My story takes place in Atlanta, somewhere I have never visited and most likely won't be able to any time soon but my characters have lived there all their lives. do you know how I would be able to make Atlanta believable? Or that guide I've seemed to have misplaced? (If it existed at all.)

(If such a guide exists in the Tumblrsphere of writing blogs, I cannot seem to find it. Tumblbuds?)

Here is what I managed to turn up for you:

The short answer is research, and lots of it. Books with maps and pictures, Google Maps, and Google Earth can show you what it looks like. Reading books, blog posts, articles about Atlanta can help you get a feel for what it might be like there. Get in touch with people who currently live in Atlanta and ask them your questions.

Nothing will beat firsthand research, but we can make do with books and the Internet. Let us know if you have further questions for us.