Writing 101: How To Write Setting

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A month and a half ago, my fiancee and I moved from Connecticut to Baltimore. The arty, weird, almost anarchic qualities of Baltimore City seemed to be a perfect fit for a quirky couple like us. The fact that Lauren’s a Baltimore native didn’t hurt either. We hired movers (a whole other ordeal) and hit the road, moving in to the Hampden neighborhood immortalized in countless John Waters films.

Through being co-founder and co-publisher of Beautiful Losers Magazine, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with two talented writers, Austin Wiggins and Dario Cannizzaro. Austin and Dario have both recently released new collections of short fiction (check them out in the links at the end of the post). Seeing Austin and Dario put out such quality works inspired me to write my first book. Without getting into too much detail, the novel is about an underground cabal of high-powered individuals clandestinely engaging in child abuse. This story, like any other, needs a setting. While the cabal operates out of New York (my hometown, a city I know like the back of my hand), the protagonist is a Baltimore native. Of course, being new to the city, depicting Baltimore authentically can be a challenge.

So, how did I tackle that challenge of writing Baltimore and not looking like an outsider or someone who had no idea what he was doing? Simple – I followed a few basic principles.

  1. Explore Your Location. If your setting is in a real place, or even if it’s a fictionalized version of a real location, visit the place! Talk to people from there, frequent restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other establishments. Get an idea of the culture. Even just walking around observing people (not in a creepy way!) and the location can do wonders towards understanding a place. If a location is too far away and/or not financially possible to visit, simply go to the Internet. YouTube has videos of virtually every location on the planet. Watch them!
  2. Ask Questions. Find a native from the place you intend to write about and ask them whatever questions you might have. If you don’t have any friends or family from that location, again, take to the Internet.
  3. Treat The Location As A Character. Many novice writers make the mistake of either writing too much or too little description in their novels. Hit the right balance by integrating the location whenever possible into your story, but don’t overdo it. You want your readers to feel as if the story is taking place in a specific location/s, not in some formless world. That said, your novel isn’t a Wikipedia article either.
  4. Modern Day, The Past, or The Future? If you’re writing about a setting from the past, do your research. If it’s the recent past, interview people who lived through the era. If you’re writing about a setting in the future, examine the location in its current state and make predictions about how it will differ in the near or distant future.
  5. Live There. Nothing’s better than total immersion if you want to authentically capture the feel of a place, but if that’s not feasible, the first four options should more than suffice.

Do you have any tips for writing setting that might help our readers? Share them with a comment!

If you’re having difficulty with writing the setting and need a ghostwriter or developmental editor, consider working with me by clicking here.

Read Austin Wiggins’ Bonds That Bind.

Read Dario Cannizzaro’s Of Life, Death, Aliens and Zombies.

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Six Ways to Write Creatively

If you’re an aspiring writer, you may find yourself drawn to one specific type of creative writing. This post intends to be a quick guide to different types of writing. Feel free to play around, and see what may happen if you try a different direction.

Poetry

If you have a background as a musician, write lyrics, or in rapping, you may want to try poetry. Contrary to what you may have heard, it doesn’t have to rhyme, in fact, rhyming poetry is pretty much passe. If you can make your writing have a musicality to it, give poetry a try!

Short Fiction

Have you tried to write a novel and got stuck somewhere along the line? Are you a part of the ADHD generation? Try short fiction! Just keep in mind that short fiction requires a different approach from a novel. In short fiction, you aren’t telling a whole narrative, but merely presenting a snapshot. If brevity is a strong point, give short fiction a try!

Novels

Do you have patience? If your answer isn’t an unequivocal yes, beware of the novel. The novel is often seen as the only “real” type of writing by many aspiring writers, but that’s simply not true; all creative writing has merit. While practically all writers love reading novels, please note that this is an ambitious goal. If you have the patience, desire and the organizational skills to tackle a novel, then go for it!

Creative Nonfiction

Is your life so interesting that you don’t need to even make things up? Why not try writing creative nonfiction? In creative nonfiction, you take the same approach as you would to a novel or short fiction, but the difference is you draw from your own real experiences. Remember this though, just because it happened, doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Make sure to write in the same way you would approaching something fictional!

Screenplays

Be honest, do you prefer watching a good movie to reading a good book? If so, you might want to try writing a screenplay. Remember that writing a screenplay is different from a novel or short fiction, as you are writing with a focus on the visuals. If you’re less a “pure” writer and more of an all-around creative, you may want to give writing a screenplay a try!

Plays

Do you have a flare for the dramatic? Are you an actor? Do you find writing dialogue to be remarkably easy, but description and introspection to be harder to execute? Try writing a play! Just remember to keep focused on the fact that this will take place on a stage, and write accordingly.

I hope this post has helped you. If you already have started on a literary project, and need copy editing, intensive editing, or publishing assistance, simply email me. I’d love to help you reach your literary potential!

Can’t Get Your Novel Published?

Platform. Do you know what this word refers to in conjunction with the publishing industry? Platform is the reason why Lena Dunham landed $3.7 million for her book proposal. If you want to sell a manuscript, more than the quality of your content (though it should certainly be up to snuff), you need to develop a reputation. If you’re thinking that your reputation is going to come from your book, you’ve got it backwards.

There are many ways to develop your platform. If you have public exposure in some way, you’re already set. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to most of us, and it can be hard to generate (I’ll leave that to others far more qualified than I am if your intent is to get famous). However, a solid portfolio of writing in other forms can do wonders for establishing a ready-made audience eager to read your book (which any publishing company would love).

A novel is a huge undertaking. I certainly think all writers should attempt one, but consider the following diverse forms as a way to gain exposure and increase your chances of selling your idea for a book:

Poetry – Whether it’s traditional or free-verse, avant-garde or transparent, there are tons of poetry journals that always are seeking quality expression.

Short Fiction/Flash Fiction – Scale back your world building and capture a photograph. That’s the art of the short story. Again, there are tons of literary magazines that are always in search of quality fiction. Regardless of your style, there’s a market for everything (of quality).

Plays – Why not write a play, send it to a contest, or work with your local theatre to have it staged?

Screenplays – Think with an eye for the visual. There are some excellent television programs and films that are quite a bit more literary than most fiction (e.g. Mad Men, my favorite program). If you want to sell your script, there’s an excellent book written by Blake Snyder called Save The Cat! that gives an insider’s view into what kind of scripts sell in Hollywood, and how to write them.

Nonfiction – Do you have expertise in a subject? It’s so easy to write an E-book and publish it on the Web. While fiction can be harder to attract an audience, with nonfiction, there’s always a built-in audience for just about every topic.

Freelance Journalism – Yes, the pay is terrible, but your name can get out there with some rather influential people.

If you need assistance with publishing your novel, please click here.