Today, I started a new project. Folks, it was hard. The bells of self-doubt were pealing in my mind. Self-loathing was knocking at the door. “Who the hell do you think you are, calling yourself a writer?” asked a scornful voice in my head. “Go back to kitchen and make me some lunch. That’s what you’re good for.”
Needless to say, I tried to ignore those voices. I tried to think about what I really wanted to write, what I really wanted to say. This is hard for me since after writing many years of commissioned stories, I have trouble figuring out what I want to say. I wanted to talk about girls and horses and fear and awkwardness and by God, I tried to do that.
In the spirit of forging ahead, here’s another chunk of our March 24 writer’s workshop, Killing the Mystery.
Don’t let those voices beat you down. Keep writing.
Setting: The Most Fun Ever
I freaking love setting. All of my favorite books are way overly-descriptive. Setting is the physical world that you create for your character—where they go, where they live, the food they eat, the books they read. I like a more limited setting myself, in which the characters inhabit a limited place, but your setting can be an entire world or multiple countries, of course. If you’re just starting out writing, my recommendation is that you consider limiting your setting. Better to do something small and do it really well, than try for big and leave it sketchy.
Setting Should Help You
Your setting should be a place you can picture so vividly that you’ll have no trouble showing that picture to your reader. You also should consider your setting to be a place that will further your plot. Setting should provide lots of opportunities for your protagonist to move around, get into trouble, meet other people. And don’t afraid to mine your own life. Where you been and lived that is interesting? It doesn’t have to be Istanbul—it can be your dorm room at the University of Michigan, 1968. What kind of posters did you have up? What did the music sound like that year and where did you hear it? What did the trays in the dining hall look like?
For instance, when I set out to write a psychological YA thriller that was eventually published as Never Let You Go, I knew starting out a few things I wanted for my setting. I wanted it to be mostly rural, because I love the outdoors and I’m most comfortable in a more natural setting. Urban would be hard for me. At time, I was working on two different farms, both of which fascinated me. It occurred to me—because I knew I was writing a scary book, that farm would be a great, potentially scary place. And this is where you get into manipulating your setting to suit your story. I needed a place I loved to be and a place with lots of potential for scary. A farm was both – people could move around freely, go in and out of buildings undetected, strangers could enter and leave with no one seeing them, there was lots of empty space with many hiding places, there were animals, there were potentially scary tools like hatchets and hooks and chains and old cultivators.
And don’t be afraid of grit and grimness or dullness. Let us see it, if your character is in a horribly dull place, like the post office. Make us feel how horribly dull it is. Let us see the flickering florescent lights and those corners of the linoleum that are never cleaned, where the stick dirt piles up. Take us with you.