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NaNo Prep Day 4: Setting the Scene in Your Story Bible

Friday, October 11, 2013

We’re going to move away from characters (don’t worry, we’ll come back before we’re done with the story bibles) and talk about other aspects of the story that you need to include in the SB.

NaNo Prep Day 4 Assignment: Add a Section for Settings

I say to add a “section” because there are various aspects to setting that need to be explored/recorded, and you’re going to need more than a “page” for this part (and probably a whole lot more than just one day).

1. Your Story World: Where does your story take place? Go from the broad (Planet Earth) to the narrow (the Woodbine neighborhood of Nashville) to the specific (77 Elberta Street).

The diverse architecture in downtown Nashville (source)

The diverse architecture in downtown Nashville (source)

2. Houses, Buildings, Architectural Styles: This is easier if you’re using a real setting vs. a fictional setting. But it’s still important to do research on the correct terms for the types of buildings/houses and their architectural styles, even if you’ve lived in the place where your story is set your entire life. A neighborhood developed in the 1880s isn’t going to be filled with Craftsman style houses; nor is one built in the 1980s going to be filled with mid-century modern styles. One of the things that makes a story seem more immediate is detail. What detail can you discover about the buildings in your setting that you can include in your notes WHETHER OR NOT YOU USE IT IN YOUR ACTUAL STORY?

3. Landscapes, Climates: What does your story world look like? What are the geographic features? What is the weather like? No, you’re not necessarily going to include all of this in your story, but you, the author, need to know as much about this as possible so that you don’t have it snowing on Thanksgiving in Brownsville, Texas. If you’re creating a fantasy/sci-fi world, this is of VITAL importance to know before you start writing.

My rough, hand-sketched map of Bonneterre

My rough, hand-sketched map of Bonneterre

4. Maps: Either collect maps (you can use the PrtScr/Print Screen button on your PC keyboard to capture an image of your screen and then paste it as an image in PowerPoint or Publisher, crop away whatever you don’t need (double click on the image and then the crop button will be on the toolbar), and the save it as an image you can use anywhere else (right click on the image and select Save as Picture…). Make sure to save it as a .jpg file for universality of use. If you’re creating your own setting (real world or fantasy/sci-fi), create your own maps, because that’s the best way to remember where you put those houses/buildings from #2.

5. Terminology: Is there a unique terminology to your setting? For example, when I was writing the Ransome series, I had to keep lists of all of the different parts of the ships and sails. Be specific with these (schooner rather than ship; jigger staysail instead of sail, etc.).

6. Historical Background: What’s the history of your storyworld? For those of us writing in either real or fictional cities set in familiar countries (like the US), this isn’t as hard as for those creating their own countries/worlds. But it is important to know why, for example, a person of color might be treated differently in Selma, Alabama, than in Detroit, Michigan, even in the year 2013.

7. Culture and Customs: What are the unique cultures and customs of your story world? “Nashville” has one connotation to the outside world, and a very different one to those of us who live here (and to those who live in different areas of Nashville. What’s culture/custom for me living in Woodbine might be completely different from culture/custom for a 20something hipster living in downtown. What festivals and other celebrations take place in your city? (And what does it mean when someone in Nashville calls CMA Fest “Fan Fair”—or even CMApocalypse?) How do people greet each other? Do they make eye contact and speak with strangers (Nashville), or do they avoid it if at all possible (Washington DC)?

8. Language, Accent, and Regional Slang: Whether real-world or fantasy/sci-fi, people are going to have different vernacular based on their region, their local culture/customs, and their backgrounds.

9. Social/Government Organization: More important for fictional/otherworldly story settings, but it’s good to know what would happen if a character breaks a social taboo or a law (and knowing what those social taboos and laws are).

10. Daily Life: This includes fashion/dress/style, manners, diet, calendar, customs, etc. Again, this is less consuming if you’re writing contemporary/real-world settings, but still something everyone needs to consider when developing your settings.

11. IMAGES, IMAGES, IMAGES: Collect images of settings that inspire, floorplans/images from real estate sites of your characters’ homes, images of the city or countryside or landscape, and so on. This is a great time to employ Pinterest—and you can use a private board if you don’t want to share with the rest of the world just yet.


What is your setting?

How much do you know about it?

How much do you feel like you need to know about it before beginning your manuscript?

  1. Friday, October 11, 2013 9:05 am

    NYC. I’ve only been there, once, although my husband has spent more time there. The good thing about NYC is that there is so much information about it on the internet anytime I have a question I just Google-search it and have my answer!


    • Friday, October 11, 2013 9:14 am

      Thank goodness for the internet—that’s what enabled me to write two series of books set in England when I’ve never been there. It’s also how I did a lot of my research on the early 19th Century Royal Navy (for the Ransome series) and all of it on the Great Exhibition (for the GE series).

      I’m having a really good time with my current story in progress returning to the fictional city, Bonneterre, Louisiana, which I started creating more than twenty years ago. It’s like getting to go home after a forced exile.


  2. stuart5wakefield permalink
    Sunday, October 20, 2013 4:58 am

    I’m making life difficult for myself by writing a love story set in what’s now the ghost town of Famagusta in Cyprus which hasn’t been populated since 1974. Thankfully, there are still maps of the place as well as postcards. I’ll be talking to a few Greek Cypriots who used to live there, too.


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