Denali photo by Lynn Lovegreen

Writing Distinctive Settings

I tend to gravitate to novels with interesting settings. For example, I loved to read about China in 484 AD in Sherry Thomas’ The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan, Atlanta in 1890 in Stacey Lee’s The Downstairs Girl, and the contemporary hip-hop world in Lamar Giles’ Spin. I recommend that every writer think carefully about the setting of their book, and make it as distinctive as possible.

Of course, any writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. What works for me may not work for you. But I will point out three things that could be helpful if you’re working on setting for your current work-in-progress. 

When I start prewriting or planning a book, I do a lot of research and brainstorming about my setting. (This is especially important for historical or other genres where you create a different world for the reader, but it also applies to contemporary stories.) I want to think through the elements of that time and place that affect the characters and plot. Is the physical environment challenging? Is there a social structure that would make it hard for my main character to reach her goals?

Also, prewriting is a good time to discover the details that make the setting special. Are there events or rituals that bring out the uniqueness of this setting and add to the plot? Is this place and time full of beauty (or sadness, etc.) that my characters will notice and respond to? I can make room to show these elements in the first draft.

I add more research later on, as I get into writing the book. Maybe I need a physical description of the buildings or natural features of the place. Or I need more information on clothing for certain occasions. That varies depending on the time and place of your novel. Details help your reader dive into the setting, and in turn into the story.

Hope these tips give you a few things to ponder as you write your next project. If you’d like more, you might be interested in my upcoming online workshop with Yosemite Romance Writers:


Amp up reader interest with a great setting! 

Instructor: Lynn Lovegreen

Dates: Feb. 1 – Feb. 26

PRICE: $20 YRW members/$25 non-members

Happy writing!

I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.