The Best Place You Ever Lived

Some people live in the same town, in the same house, their entire lives, while most move at least once over the course of their lifetime. Taking into consideration all the places you have lived, which one was your favorite? Why?

Perhaps it was because of the neighbors. They were friendly, open, and welcoming and your best friend lived right next door. Maybe it was that the location offered plenty of things to do, like roller-skating, hiking, swimming or exploring.

Whatever the reason, that place offered you something that no other has.

Your characters will have a favorite place as well. Begin by creating backstory for each of your main characters. Give them each a place and at least one reason. Those places might not appear in your story, but they continue to appear in the memories that your characters carry forward. They may even influence the things your characters say and do.

Your task is to write a story in which a favorite place appears in some way. It could play a prominent role or it could come up in discussion. In this story setting is important, but so are the memories.

Remember that not everyone in a family shares the same opinion about a given place. This could lead to some interesting discussions that create a sense of tension.

Have fun with this one.

Choosing the Time Period

Every story exists within a particular time period. Historical novels are normally centered in the past, ranging from the earliest days of man to the near present. Think cave men and last year.

Futuristic stories might be on Mars after its been settled, on a spaceship as it zooms toward a distant planet, or on Earth after an apocalypse.

When a story occurs affects weather, clothing, buildings, communication systems, all kinds of infrastructure issues and many more. If you’re an expert on a particular era, perhaps you don’t have to research to get information, but most of us will have to spend a substantial amount of time gathering data.

Your task is to write a story that takes place in a time period other than now. Begin by listing three different ideas that intrigue you. Choose the one you will enjoy learning more about. Research until you come up with enough information to develop your world.

Include sensory details so that your readers will grasp when and where the events take place, but be careful not to employ an information dump to do so. Weave together story and details, dialogue and narrative.

Have fun with this one.

Establishing Setting

I’ve always had a hard time getting the introduction of setting on the first page. I realize that it’s important that readers know when and where a story takes place, but how do you insert the details without being pedantic?

I’ve tried beginning with a description of the scene, such as John  Steinbeck did so well in both Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. What seemed to come naturally to him is forced from me. Steinbeck was able to set the scene so well that you could almost hear the wind blowing through the trees and smell the smoke from the cook fire.

Science fiction writers have to describe a whole new world in such a way that the reader understands exactly what’s going on. Many might begin with a map, naming places and drawing boundaries in such a way that readers will feel at home as characters pass through the different areas.

Stories set in the past have to establish historical accuracy from the get-go. This includes foods, dress, language, environments and so on. It requires a great amount of research to make sure that this world depicts the way things were.

My stories tend to be contemporary in my world, which means in the San Francisco Bay Area. I do this on purpose. First of all, it’s a world I know and understand. Secondly, I don’t have to use too much imagination to place my characters in the world and set them in motion.

So how do you establish setting? I recommend looking at authors that you respect. Reread the first pages of many different books. Take notes. Imitate what you read, down to the sentence structures, replacing a noun for a noun and a verb for a verb.

Do this over and over until you feel comfortable working on your own.

This is your task. Think of a story that you want to tell.  Using one of the models that you have created as a beginning, tell the story. When you are finished, go back and reread. Does the setting work? When you start reading, do you know the time period and the place or do you have to guess?

If you, the writer, don’t know, then neither will your reader. In this case, go back to your models and try again. Repeat this process until your setting works.

Have fun  with this one.