One of the easiest ways to improve your fiction is to think about where it happens. When you’re plotting fiction, consider your settings and locations. Your readers will thank you. Your fiction will be more entertaining, and that’s your goal — to entertain your readers.
In practice, I tend to work on settings after I’ve finished the first draft. Usually I’m too eager to write the novel or short story to think of anything other than the characters and plot. Happily, I often get ideas for scene locations while I’m writing. But I know I can do more.
So, in the second draft, after I’ve read through the material, and have deleted “junk” scenes and characters, I focus on settings. By junk material, I mean scenes which add nothing to the plot, and characters who aren’t needed.
A tip: you have no way of knowing what’s junk, and what isn’t, until you’ve finished the first draft. In your first draft — press on. Onward, ever onward.
Here’s an example. In a current novel, which I’m ghostwriting for a client, most of my scenes take place in: the heroine’s apartment, the hero’s home, and the heroine’s office. I know this, but at the moment (I’m about 75% done), I can’t think about it too much. I just want to finish the draft.
I’ve made a list of locations I want to use: a race track, a luxury yacht, and a rodeo. If I stopped writing now, and rewrote several scenes so that they happen in the locations I want, I’d lose momentum.
The new settings will change a lot of the novel: they’ll affect both the characters, and the plot itself. So I have a lot of rewriting in store, but I want to finish the major scenes of the story before I get into that.
Once I’ve got a draft, I’ve got something that’s a book. I can play with it as much as I please at that stage. If I tinker now, I’ll lose track of many of the threads. It’s very hard to keep the entire action of a novel in your head, as you know if you’re in the middle of writing one.
Settings first, or later?
My writing students often ask whether they should map out their scene locations before they start writing.
My response: whatever works. Whatever occurs to you. WRITE.
Your primary aim when you start your fiction, whether it’s a short story, or a novel, is to finish it. If you spend too much time debating the pros and cons of a setting, or anything else, rather than writing, you’ll lose inspiration.
The dreaded inner editor wakes up: you’re writing WHAT? Oh no, sorry, that will never do. It’s been done before, and moreover…. yada, yada, kvetch, kvetch… And before you know it, your inspiration dims. And dies.
If ideas for locations occur to you while plotting a scene, write it. Don’t stop to research, just write. Research later.
On the other hand, if you end up basing most of your scenes in your lead character’s house and backyard, and you know that you need more variation, just remember it. Make a note to brainstorm locations once you’ve completed the first draft.
After your first draft, you’ll be totally inspired when you come up with some wonderful locations. This means that you’ll look forward to rewriting, and before you know it, your second draft will be done.
And your novel (or short story) will be much improved, because you spent time working on settings. Have fun.
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