Friday, January 9, 2009

How Lisa Writes Settings

Tip of the day: When you are revising, go through and use a different colored highlighter every time you use one of the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, etc.). If you hardly have any smells, for example, you’ll be able to visually see it that way.

I really love books where the setting becomes like another character. I can think of a couple of books off the top of my head that were like that for me. One of them is THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE by Liz Gallagher. She did a beautiful job capturing the feel of Seattle in her book. Another is THE COMEBACK SEASON by Jennifer E. Smith, where Chicago, the Cubs, and Wrigley Stadium all play an important role in the book.

Is my strength setting? No, not at all. But when I read books where setting is done really well, I realize how much I love it. So here’s a bit of my process when it comes to setting.

First I ask – in what way is the setting important to the story? For example, in FAR FROM YOU, I knew the characters were going to take a road trip at one point in the story, and it needed to be far enough to drive, but not so far that it was ridiculous, since there’s a 6-week old infant along for the ride. I ended up setting part of the story in Seattle and part of the story in rural southern Oregon. But I do think the first question you have to ask is what role is the setting going to play? Sometimes it will be a major role and sometimes very minor.

Like others have mentioned, it’s much easier to set it in a place that’s familiar. My new mid-grade book, IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES (out 2010) is set in a made-up town in Oregon, called Willow. Oregon is where I live and it was much easier to write having at least one thing familiar to me, even if everything else in the book wasn’t.

Next I ask – What places within that setting are going to be important? Probably the main character’s home, but what other places? School? A favorite hang-out? A restaurant? And then I decide what details I want to bring out that will make those places seem real and interesting to the reader. I heard Cecil Castelluci talk one time and she said that every character probably has a place that helps define who that character is, like Superman has the phone booth, right?

Finally I ask – What details will be important to make the setting come alive for the reader? And this is the hardest for me. I mean, you could go on forever describing a place. So what’s really IMPORTANT? And why? Is there something the character doesn’t particularly like about a place? Or something she loves? Narrowing down what should be shared with the reader is difficult, but necessary. Sometimes I don’t know what to describe and I don’t describe much of anything, and come back later and fill in the holes. In a first draft, that’s okay. And maybe as you write, you’ll figure out what needs to be described and why, as you learn more about your character.

Hope you’ve found this week helpful! Happy writing!!

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career


Emily Marshall said...

Lisa, this was a brilliant summary of setting, and definitely gave me things to think about. Thank you!!!

And I did the highlighting thing with my writing group once. Except we did it to see "balance," and highlighted action, dialogue, description, and thoughts in a different color. I think it really helped. I'm going to have to try it with senses.

Kate Fall said...

Sometimes I underline things in crayon to make revision seem more fun. Plus my kids have crayons all over the place.

I like thinking about the ONE PLACE that defines my main character. I should especially be thinking about that in writing a graphic novel where visual images are so important!!

Christina Farley said...

I never thought about that. That every MC needs their special place. I've got to mull over that more for my MC

DeenaML said...

Hmmmm...yes, my character definitely needs her own defining place! Thanks!