Write it–Finding a Setting for your story


Before I start today’s post, I want to thank everyone for visiting Pacific NW Author yesterday. I received 43 hits, which I know in the larger scheme of things, is a drop in the bucket, but for this blog, that’s fantastic traffic.

For some reason I woke up this morning with this idea in my head for finding settings for short fiction and novels. The idea was to ask questions with the Google search engine, such as “Which US state has the most vegetarians?” “Which US state has the most Hispanics, African-Americans, etc…” And so on, by asking these types of questions you can find a setting that will bring your characters the most conflict. And you also solve the problem of conflict for your story. Many new writers especially, (I did this once myself), write stories without any real conflict.

So say you have a character that is phobic of a certain ethnic group or you have a character that despises vegetarians or progressives. Then you find the location that has the most progressives or people of the ethnic group in which your character has a phobia, and you plop your character into that locale. One built-in conflict is to send a pagan character, who dresses in Gothic clothing, reads esoteric books, into a small southern town steeped in fundamentalist Christianity. Or you can find place a teenage character obsessed with sex into a Catholic setting. Voila conflict?

You can stick a vegan in a town that thrives on ranching, and if this character advocates for animal welfare, he or she is going to run into deep trouble. Basically, you find a monster of one kind or another to pit against your character. I’m not talking physical monster, but an industry, belief system, or tight community that stares wearily at strangers. The theme of outsider is a strong universal theme that if done right transforms into a page-turning book.

A groundhog seeking his shadow

The other concept I want to mention is more on the psychological/new age area and that is working with shadows and projections. As you know, if you have been following this blog, I personally have worked with Debbie Ford’s books on shadows and projections and have seen the movie “The Shadow Effect” three times.

We all have shadow selves stuffed inside us, even hidden from us, but not others who feel the frequency of these shadows. Do you ever meet someone who seems nice on the outside, but turns you off? You don’t know why exactly, but you can’t stand being around this person or you secretly want to lash out in cruelty. You pick up on this person’s frequency which is based on a belief that this person might have no awareness.

And at the same time, you might have the same belief about yourself so you project that disowned part of yourself on this person. Well, characters have shadows too. These are the places where the character fools themselves, act like they have it all together, and lie to themselves and ultimately, to others.

For instance, my character Agnes (“Agnes et Yves”), despises her mother for taking her to Paris during her childhood and then engaging in love affairs with married Parisian men. Agnes swears to herself that she will never repeat her mother’s behavior, then chases after a flamenco Don Juan, who just thinks of Agnes as a lady in another port. Later, she meets Yves, another foreign man. There is no way Agnes won’t fall for him at some point, because she still lives under her shadow.

I salt the novel with scenes in which Agnes interviews Parisian painters who are into seducing women. Agnes feels disgusted by their behavior, but this doesn’t stop her from throwing herself and her dignity at Pablo, the flamenco guitarist on tour with his troupe. And all of this makes for great comedy. Oh, Agnes, you fool for love.

Next time you need a setting for your novel, try asking questions to a search engine and see what stats and information comes up. For conflicts, turn to psychology and new age self-help books. This does not imply that you are creating new age characters, but that you are finding new avenues to unearthing their souls. If you follow this advice, you will create 3-dimensional if not, 5-dimensional characters that speak to the hearts of your readers. And don’t be afraid to sit your characters down and analyze their minds.

10 thoughts on “Write it–Finding a Setting for your story

  1. Great post! There are a few people I’ve met who really turned me off just like you explained. You don’t find out until later what it actually is that you dislike, but eventually you do. I like to cast those people (disguised of course) into roles of victims in my stories. 😀

  2. Thanks. I try not to lead my characters to victimhood, but the opposite theme, empowerment. I engage in a spiritual process for my characters. They start with one assumption and end with another closer to the truth.

  3. Patricia, when is your book going to be available? I’m really anxious to do our book swap because it seems that you and I think the same about a lot of things and I’m looking forward to seeing how you’ve incorporated these things into your book. If it’s not available now, I’d still like to go ahead and send you my book. My email is marimann (at) cox (dot) net; if you’ll email me your address, I’ll get my book in the mail to you and then try to wait patiently for yours!

  4. I like your discussion and thought process here, but next time could you just write “You can stick an animal lover in Texas, in a town that thrives on ranching, and if this character advocates for animal welfare, he or she is going to run into deep trouble.” without writing “Texas” – the sentence would still work, but you would avoid stereotype. Some of the kindest most gentle people I know live in ranch country (in various states). Their animals are treated with respect and with great care. (Not all, I agree, but the many in rural areas were “gentling” horses long before “whispering” became to attention of Hollywood). Animal welfare is very important to family ranchers and farmers. When you care for animals from birth, it’s different…even if you choose to consume meat. Maybe the term “animal welfare” is different for different people, but still, think about it? As always, enjoy your posts

  5. Hi Karen, you bring up a good point and I plead ignorance. I always had this idea of ranchers treating animals as product. But for all the ranchers who treat their animals with respect, there are the ones who don’t. I also have an ethical problem with raising animals for food, but that’s neither here nor there–not related to this post.

    Perhaps my post should read stick a vegan animal rights advocate in ranch country. I can easily change this.

    • Sorry – didn’t mean to jump all over you. It’s just stereotypes of all kinds …don’t worry about editing the post – most readers won’t see it. I think we both agree the large factory farms and agro-corporations in multiple states are not good – for people or animals. And you’ll never convince me cows standing in mud shoulder to shoulder in feedlots are happy or healthy…or chickens in the huge buildings with lights on all the time and never touching real ground in fresh air are good…and there’s other situations. I’m also concerned about the way fish are being raised in “corrals” in the open ocean – let’s ruin that food source/environment, too? (I know a lot of organic ranchers/farmers and free range chicken people.) Oh, well, always fighting windmills. Once again, I sorry to appear to yell at you, you write with a sincere honest voice – and I enjoy your blog.

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