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Tag Archives: Setting in Fiction

Dark and stormy nights and other novel settings

It was a dark and stormy night. All right, cliche setting. But perhaps it’s overuse and familiarity has a reason. Settings are important when writing fiction. You don’t live in a vacuum, do you? Neither do your characters and their stories. Even if your character has disappeared to a remote island, there is still a setting. Think ocean, sand, trees, wild animals, an anonymous presence, etc. Even if your character is in prison, there is still a setting – albeit one limited in space.

Settings influence your plot and your characters’ behaviour. Don’t believe me. What about the late Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries? Wolfe, a  middle-aged PI, lives in a brownstone apartment in New York City. He seldom leaves his apartment and prefers to spend his time alone in his big orchid room, commiserating with his large collections of orchids. Yes, the plants, in a room of their own.. Not your typical use for a spare apartment room. Wolfe is a loner and an eccentric. When he wants to see clients or suspects, he orders his employee, side-kick Archie to get them in. Any legwork outside the brownstone is Archie’s responsibility. And that is where the reader sees and experiences the setting – a New York City a few decades ago.

So you can see how setting is part of the characters and plot. Sometimes setting can even be a character. Think The Perfect Storm, although here I am treferring to the movie. In fact if you want to see setting, watch the movies and TV shows and see the variety of settings presented. There are hospital series such as The Good Doctor and Chicago Med. So you feel like you are there in the hospital. Or a fire with some of the firefighters stuck inside it in Chicago Fire. You can tell what I like to watch. Even the overdone car chase scene has setting. If you can get your eyes off the cars for a few minutes and just see their surroundings. A car chase on Hawaii Five-O is much different than one through the slushy, snow-covered streets in wintry Chicago PD. And the setting for the car chase influences just how the chase might go.

Back to books. In my mystery novel Beyond Faith, late the last night in November 1999, PI Dana Bowman is walking from a reception party to a midnight meeting with a blackmailer at St. John’s Church. Basically, she is walking from the industrial area of a mid-sized town to its downtown. On the way, I blend in the warm for  November night with a car that seems to be following Dana. I’m not going to tell you what happens with that; instead I’m going to quote some of what happens when Dana gets to the church.

No one else was about, which might make it easy to spot the blackmailer as he or she arrived—if he or she showed up. Even the area of St. John’s was barren of people, but about half a dozen cars were parked in the parking lot. Overflow from the Beaver and Cricket, no doubt. Not the church, which appeared dark, and after climbing the stairs, I found that the door was locked. Odd. But then the time was pushing closer to midnight and St. John’s probably was the church that had been robbed earlier this year.

I walked down to the cement seat surrounding the fountain, and began pacing to and from the seat. My digital showed as five minutes before midnight. More pacing and time checking did nothing except move time forward to 11.58. The blackmailer was pushing it close. A breeze brushed my face and I wished to be wearing the usual wardrobe of jeans, sweats and warm jacket. I also wished the blackmailer would hurry up and get here. Just as I started to put on my fake fur coat something snapped nearby. A tree branch? I jumped and dropped the coat on the ground. Get a grip, Dana. Clutching my bag, I moved away from the fountain seat and looked at the other side of the fountain. (from Beyond Faith, Copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press, 2017)

And no, I’m not going to tell you what comes next. You have to get the book for that. (Hint. Click on the book at the top of this post.)

But from the Nero Wolfe scene descriptions and from the above from Beyond Faith, something else is going on. We don’t just get a bland description of the setting. The characters are actually doing something in it and the plot moves forward.

Plot, characters, setting – all part of a novel and they are intertwined, connected.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued)

Again, I connect you to my post on my Only Child Writes blog. This time it is using another fiction writing technique for memoir – setting. Blog post is here.

And next week we’ll get back to strictly fiction.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series.

 

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Three Author Snafus Editors find

I’m wearing my Editor’s hat today and the hat pin is keeping it firmly in place. There are several “concerns” (to put it gently) I come across when editing an author’s fiction manuscript. Today, I’ll highlight three of them with quick suggestions on how to avoid.

  1. Point of View does the lice movement, i.e., switches heads a lot. Sometimes this switch occurs many times within one scene and it is confusing for the reader. The scary part here is some of the POV switching occurs in published novels. Somebody was dozing at the wheel. Yes, you can have multiple points of view in a novel. Often, depending on the novel’s plot, multiple POV is very necessary. But the rule of thumb is to keep the same POV for the chapter, or a scene in the chapter. Get inside one character at a time. If it helps subhead the POV character’s name for the chapter or scene (you can remove that subhead later). Refer back to that subhead when you finish writing the scene’ or chapter’s draft.
  2. When detail becomes expository. This can happen with describing rooms, towns or history and when it gets out of hand can put the reader to sleep. Why? Because the prose is coming across as a lecture. Even putting it as dialogue doesn’t always help. Yes, put the character in the scene and if describing rooms or towns, beaches, etc. do it as the character goes into the room, etc. and what they see. If the room is untidy, maybe they trip over something. For history, keep it to a minimum – what actually is connected to the story’s plot – not the area’s whole history from BC. Yes, use some dialogue, but keep it short and have the characters do something while talking, have other characters ask the history teller questions or make comments. And have the conversation interrupted with something else happening. For example, if they are in a car, maybe the car blows a tire; maybe they are being followed (but watch the POV here); and maybe there is a sudden storm.
  3. Weird formatting in Word. I’m talking beyond what a copy editor would do – such as changing paragraphing to traditional style for submission to publisher. I have had hard returns in manuscripts, extra space suddenly appearing at the bottom of the pages, backward quotation marks. And my favourite for “the author is in the doghouse” – submitting a manuscript for editing when the manuscript has already been formatted in Word’s book form. Huh? Keep it simple and basic. If you can’t do this, hire a Word professional to type up your manuscript. Oh yeah, handwritten manuscripts are never acceptable.

These are just a few of the “idiosyncrasies” I have received from authors expecting me to edit their manuscript.and I have received worse.

Okay, back to wearing my author’s hat.

And as usual, if you click on the Beyond book at the top, it will link to more information. Teaser: there may be some news of another Beyond book soon.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Writing stories from extreme weather

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Can you take an extreme weather situation you lived through and write a story about it?

Often living through these types of events can cause a lot of trauma, even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And one way to get on the road to healing is to write about it. If it is too painful to write your story, then why not use it as a basis for fiction. Getting your imagination to work with what is now a reality can often produce a powerful short story or novel.

Examples are floods, tornadoes, volcanoes, and ice storms, The one in the news lately is the severe prolonged ice storm in the province of New Brunswick in Canada’s Maritimes. That one caused widespread prolonged power damages.

I wasn’t there for that one, but did go through the one in southern Ontario, particularly Toronto, in December 2013.

So, give your imagination free reign for story ideas. If you’ve lived through an experience, your experience will factor in for what it feels like, what can happen, what it looks like. But you want a different story, different characters – could be mystery, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, romance.

Or you might want to take one or two events that happened during the storm – to you or friends and go from there. For example, in the December 2013 ice storm in Toronto, I had a belligerent boarder and her cat living with me when the power went off. Fortunately the phone (a land line) still worked so my son (who still had power – it wasn’t everywhere in Toronto – in fact there were blocks with no power right beside blocks with power) could phone me. My son arranged and paid for a hotel room for the boarder, her cat and me for two days and took us out to dinner the first evening there.

Outside it was icy – sidewalks, roads, trees and power lines, some still down. Until downtown where the hotel was – the scene was more normal, dry sidewalks, lights and heat.

Oh yeah, the boarder’s cat was black.

So, what can you come up with in a story with just that much information?

If you click on the Beyond Blood novel above it will take you to more information about my Beyond books. No floods or tornadoes, but there is a scary scene in a lake, both above and under water in Beyond Blood, and a hair-raising car drive up a highway in the short story “No Breaks” from Beyond the Tripping Point. The idea for the short story came from something that happened to a friend and me, but the short story is not our story. The scary lake scene in Beyond Blood comes from a few pieces in my life – I can’t swim, being on a sailboat with a friend, her boyfriend and my son, and the swimmer (my friend), not me, falling into the lake. This latter wasn’t a traumatic scene (it was actually funny and yes my friend did get herself safely back onto her sailboat – and she was laughing all the way about it), but it does give you the idea of taking something you lived through and “spinning a yarn” from it.

Creative writing to all.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

 

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More on your setting in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Besides actual location, setting also includes information peculiar to what is happening in the location. For example, in my novel Beyond Blood, the main character PI Dana Bowman goes sailing with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Fielding has been sailing for years but this is Dana’s first time aboard a large sailboat – more like a small yacht. So I combined my limited sailing background with checking in with an expert in this area and also some reading online and in books about sailing..

A few years ago I wrote a newspaper story on a fellow, a seasoned sailor, who was planning to sail at least partway around the world. His “sailboat” (the small yacht type) was anchored in the Harbourfront area of Toronto Harbour. I made an appointment to interview him for the story and met him on his boat. When I arrived he was swabbing the deck.

I told him I was also going to ask a few extra questions for background information for a novel I was writing. He gave me the boat tour – it is amazing what can be packed into the small enclosed area below – everything from a small kitchen to a bathroom to a place to sleep. He was very informative but he did not take me out on Lake Ontario. So, I had to go back a few years when my son, still a child, and I went sailing with my friend and her boyfriend – for the feel of it, to remember you always wear a life jacket when on a sailboat, to how the winds affect the sailing, to falling into the water. No, I (who can’t swim) didn’t fall in, but my friend, a good swimmer did. She was okay with her life jacket on and just laughed about it as she swam the short distance back to the boat and climbed back aboard. But it gave me information for Beyond Blood although no one falls in the water.

So when Dana first goes out on the water with Fielding, I work it in as a friendly lesson while avoiding making it an expository or Sailing 101. Here is a short excerpt:

“Here put on a life jacket.” He handed me one which I donned. Fielding put on the other one and shoved the cooler under the floor. “Please sit down while I hoist the sail.”

” Need any help?”

“No.” He looked into my face. “Fine, but you have to obey orders if you want to crew.”

“Aye, aye sir.” I saluted,

Fielding moved away and moved into what resembled a cockpit, lowered the centreboard and removed the tarp, exposing two sails.”

“Here, store the tier below deck.”

“Huh?”

Fielding pointed to where the cooler rested. Taking hold of the tier, I folded it and placed it below deck.

“Maybe I’ll just watch this time.” I sat down on one of the benches.  (From Beyond  Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2014, Blue Denim Press)

Dana does help more a bit later. The whole chapter is not about learning to sail as Fielding and Dana also use the time to find out more about each other until…

Well, I’m not going to say what happens or how this chapter ends.You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out. Click on the book cover at the top to find out one of the places the book is available. For now,  I’ll just say that later in the novel, Dana has to use her sailing knowledge to try to save a family member. So, the first sailing episode was not just a respite from all the murder and mayhem, but also served a purpose – showing how Dana learns something about sailing so that when she has to use it in a life-threatening situation, it is not a skill pulled out of air with a quick explanation such as “I (Dana) learned to swim a few years ago” tacked on to it.

That is something else to remember. You may have more leeway in a novel to go off on so-called tangents, but make sure they have something to do with character development and plot – especially in mystery novels.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Fiction Setting in past times

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Some of us write fiction set in past times. That could be from last year back several decades or centuries. My Beyond stories are set in the late 1990s, so many things were different even back then 17 or 18 years ago.For example, technology could be considered part of setting (think wi-fi availability today in cafes, public transit, and just walking along the street). What we take for granted today, may not have been around back in the days of your novel or short story.

One big setting factor is weather. We can all probably figure out that today’s weather is much more extreme in all ways. There are more floods, tornadoes, heavy snowfalls, etc. And so if you are writing in another time period, you have to be aware what is going on in the weather then. And not in general, but on the days your story takes place and the actual location. That requires some research beyond your memory of back then if you were actually living in that time period. Leave your memory of the weather for your feelings about it when it happened and you might be able to use that in your story. You need to do more concrete research.

If you don’t something like the following could happen.

Supposing you are setting your story in August 2011 in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. You have been there many times in the past, but not since 2010. So, you write your story setting it in August 2011 in Goderich as you remember it with its centre of town set up in a square..

Hold it right here. On August 21, 2011 a big tornado hit Goderich, Ontario causing extensive damage to the downtown square and nearby houses. If you have your characters meeting at one of the shops there or even in a chase through the downtown square on that date or just after, but don’t factor in the tornado, oops.

A tornado can add to the suspense in your story, so consider including it.

But do your research first – online with old news stories.And if you don’t know what the weather was like on certain days of certain years, you can check with weather authorities (such as Environment Canada) for historical weather information about dates in the past. You don’t want to have a blizzard in late November in such-and-such year just north of Toronto when the weather was actually mild for the time and it rained the proverbially buckets.

There are many other time-related issues that factor into setting. I’ll cover a few more of them in a future post, but here’s one to think about and research.

Your characters are eating soup that came out of a can and the year is 1921. Did soup or any other foods come in cans in 1921? You need to do your research. And you can take that food area much further to what people actually ate in the your story’s time period and how they prepared and stored food and where and how they ate.

Setting covers much more than geographic location.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting the scene right in your story

Cover of Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press. Click for link to purchase e-copies

Cover of Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press.

When writing fiction it is not only important to make your characters and plot realistic, but you need to do the same with your setting. Especially when you combine the setting with your characters and plot. Especially in rooms. Especially in action scenes in rooms.

Remember, you may have the visual in your mind but the reader is reading words, not watching it on TV. Think of police mystery shows, such as Chicago PD where the police are entering a building in force. The characters don’t know what they will find inside – people or structure, but you can bet the writers and director do. It can mess things up if you have a setting that just doesn’t match up with what the characters are doing.

Let’s take that scene mentioned above. As a fiction author, you need to know if there are stairs inside, where they are, if any of them have defects or squeak, how big the rooms are, and what rooms there are and how many levels. Otherwise you might unintentionally have a scene akin to the Keystone Cops.

In Beyond Blood, I had somewhat tight quarters to play out the climax – a medium-sized yacht. I had to know what would be on board, its arrangement, if my characters would all fit and be able to move around as needed (I solved that one by not having them all in one place at once).

But before I did that I had to get on a yacht, so I did. I got a tour of a somewhat smaller yacht and asked the owner/sailor about the terminology. And I read books on the subject.

There is a certain amount of micro-managing by the author once you get your building rooms straightened out. You need to consider any windows, if they face the sun and at what point of day. Is it dark and rainy outside when your characters are inside? You can’t have a character come in out of pouring rain and when he or she is in the living room or an office have bright sunlight streaming through…unless it suddenly clears up.

Then there is the feasibility of your characters moving around in a room and what they can see while they are in action. For one scene in Beyond Blood, I actually stood up from my computer and tried to re-enact the scene to consider room corners and furniture (my desk substituted for the office desk) to see if it would work.

You can also draw room sketches and if you aren’t somewhat incompetent in Math, do the rooms to scale. No, I don’t do the latter. But I did go around in different areas, different cities and towns with my camera to find the perfect house that would work with the Attic Investigative Agency on the top floor for the fraternal twin PIs – Dana Bowman and Bast Overture. This house had to be at leastt 75 years old, three stories, with two balconies and a turret. I found the house in downtown London, Ontario. I believe it is used for offices now) near a park and snapped away. No, I didn’t go inside. I used my imagination and memories for the inside.

But that’s fodder for another post.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

For something completely different check out when I was interviewed about Beyond Blood and writing on radio station Northumberland 89.7 FM http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/

All my TV interviews are posted on You Tube. Click on “Video” at the top right of this blog

Check out my website www.samcraw.com for more information about Beyond Blood and my writing workshops. I do update it.

The book cover at the top links to my Amazon author profile and my books. E-copies are also available at my publisher’s website http://www.bluedenimpress.com

 

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