Writing Tip – Where to Set Your Story

Where To Set Your Story

How important is the decision where to set your story? What do you need to consider when choosing your setting? How important will a location become to the overall adventure you plan to scribe?

I guess all this is determined by the genre you write. Some genres eg. Regency, determine the setting and you have no choice. But if you write contemporary romance stories, then let your mind search the world for something new and different you can weave into your story alongside your plot.

Setting covers much more than just the location that is chosen for a story, and I’ll touch on this broader aspect in a later post. I also realise I have posted about setting before. On my travels I have discovered how mistaken one can be by what one thinks is the norm within another country, another nationality. While television and the Internet have opened our eyes to the world, writing about a place you have never lived, or at least visited, is fraught with risk. You can never gauge the tempo or atmosphere of a place through the detachment of an electronic device.

We’ve all heard the advice “write what you know” and yet so many writers still chose locations obviously foreign to them. Probably because they believe these will be more acceptable to readers. This so-called acceptability was confirmed during the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference a couple of weeks ago when literary agent Kevan Lyon suggested writing a contemporary romance which was not set in the U.S. would be unlikely to succeed in that country. What a sad indictment on the vision of U.S. romance readers.

I love to read stories located in foreign lands as long as I feel the writer is sharing their knowledge. I’m not suggesting I catch out every writer who isn’t writing “what she knows” but there are many a little slip up where this is obvious. The skill of the writer or the depth of the research may alleviate major mistakes but beware of those little points which might trip you up.

As a foreigner, or alien as we are called, setting a story in the U.S. is particularly daunting. The world has been so exposed to U.S. culture via TV, movies and the Internet we think we know Americans. Only going there to live showed me how little I knew about America. They didn’t speak the same English as I did, they did so many things back to front or upside down, and while those I was fortunate enough to meet and/or befriend were the most amazing people, I often didn’t understand them at all. Could I really risk writing stories set in the U.S.?

My first story, “Worlds Apart” was written while I lived in Maryland. Even while immersed in the culture, I still initially made numerous cultural mistakes which thankfully were captured by my critique group and a very vigilant editor. My soon to be released “Worlds Collide” – linked to Worlds Apart – necessitated my returning to Maryland, or DC to be exact, but I have the confidence that having frequently visited the corner of Alexandria where I set this story, the setting authenticity is true.

But why not avoid risks of being caught out with your setting? When considering where to place your story, why not chose your own back yard? I’ve chosen New Zealand as the setting for almost all of my stories as it is a beautiful, exciting and exotic country. A survey released recently show people are visiting this fair country in their droves. Why wouldn’t I want to highlight the beauty and diversity to any of my readers? And share something new and different with those living overseas.

I’ve chosen to write what I know. I chose to use my own back yard as my point of difference in the romance writing world. Don’t be afraid – you can turn your back yard into a setting just as exciting and interesting as anywhere else in the world. No matter where you live in the world, give it a try.


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