Before I begin intensive plotting for any piece of fiction, I like to brainstorm settings and moods. It makes plotting easier. Just as movies have location scouts, you can scout locations for your scenes too.
New fiction authors tend to use just a couple of settings, so their fiction is less exciting than it could be.
Plotting and place: everything happens somewhere
Unlike a playwright, or a movie director, novelists don’t have to worry about a budget. They can set their scenes anywhere their imagination takes them — on a lonely island in the Pacific, or on Mars.
Aim to develop settings which will indicate a mood, because this will affect your characters, and intensify their emotions.
You could set a scene in which your main characters are out in a small boat in a storm for example. Set the scene on a cruise ship on a sunny day however, with your characters sipping margaritas, and the mood would be very different.
Let’s look at some ideas for plotting with settings and moods.
1. Enhance your plots: brainstorm locations
Having a variety of settings makes plotting easier.
For example, let’s say that you’re writing a contemporary romance, which is set in your home town. Why your home town? Because you know that location well, in every season of the year, so it cuts down on research time.
Your main character is an artist, who owns a gift shop. Without brainstorming, your locations might be: her home, an old Victorian house; her gift shop; a coffee shop.
All fine, of course. But what if your locations included:
- The courthouse, where your heroine works as a sketch artist during a trial;
- The local museum, where she’s commissioned to paint a mural;
- The local spa, where…
- And so on.
Without thinking about it too much, you can quickly come up with a number of settings which will set a mood, and help you with plotting.
2. Pantser? Develop settings while you’re writing
Although it’s easier to develop settings while you’re plotting, before you start writing, what if you’re a pantser?
In that case, opportunities to vary your settings will present themselves, if you’re looking for them. Keep asking yourself: what if…?
- What if I set this scene on a deserted beach, rather than in their kitchen?
- What if the murder happened on a plane, rather than in an office?
3. Better settings: change your scene locations when you’re editing
Let’s say you’ve written the first draft of a novel, and you’re concerned that the settings are generic. You can change them when you’re editing.
You needn’t change every scene. Look for a scene which needs a little extra punch — you’re sure that you could do more with this scene.
Brainstorm locations. You’ll able to revamp the scene, changing the setting and the mood, without too much effort.
Keep a “settings” file: it makes plotting easier
When you become aware that settings and mood can enhance your fiction, you’ll want to develop a “settings” file.
I keep a Settings notebook in Evernote. If I’m out and about somewhere, and think “oooh… fascinating”, I’ll snap a couple of photos. When I get back to my car, I write a few sentences about the location.
At home, I’ll transfer the idea, as well as the photos, to Evernote. Then I brainstorm how I could use the setting. The brainstorming is important, because ideas tend to be as hazy as dreams. Unless you cement your idea, it drifts away like smoke.
Have fun with settings — you’ll find plotting easier.
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