Book Trends Blog

January 21, 2012

Writing Settings by Bob Spear

Filed under: Book Writers,Self-Publishers,Uncategorized — bobspear @ 4:15 pm

One of the most loved and respected authors of western fiction was Louis L’amour.. His fans found his stories to be very realistic because of the accuracy of his settings. If one of his stories mentioned a specific well or spring, you could go to that location and find it. This is because L’amour had done so before he wrote about it. His research was meticulous.

Does this mean you need to become a world traveler to be able to construct realistic settings? Not necessarily. I’ve been fortunate to have lived in or traveled in a number of countries in Europe and Asia, so I could search my memory and describe a particular location I had personally experienced just like L’amour had done.

Detailed, accurate settings make for interesting reading. This is why books are often referred to as armchair adventures. But, what’s an author to do if his story takes him to a place he’s never been? All is not lost. First there are atlases for those of us who know how to read a good map. Second, there are sources of good information in Google and Wikipedia. Most importantly, there are UTube  and documentaries which can give you a look at far away places. Any author who doesn’t avail himself of these resources is just plain lazy. By studying and seeing for oneself the locations you’re writing about, you can produce much more interesting works.

OK, how about science fiction and fantasy? Did you ever notice how many fantasy novels come with an excellent map of the stories’ settings? I always find myself checking such maps as I read just so I’m clear as to where everything is. The beauty of scifi is its settings are whatever the author wants them to be; therefore, detailed descriptions become essential.

Good settings are the sign of good fiction writers. They add spice to your stories. They also add connectivity with your readership for those who have been to the places you write about. Do your due diligence to make what you write as believable as possible.



  1. All excellent points. I’m just finishing up with my latest work and have been considering putting a map of my fictional town into it. However, I’m waiting to see if an illustrator friend of mine has time to help me out. I tried sketching it myself and well let’s just say my version won’t do much more than convince people I’m a five year old playing with crayons. 🙂

    Regardless, it’s important to at least have a map in your head while writing. While artistic license is always allowed, don’t have the main character go north of town to the old haunted mine, only to head south to it later in the story. People will notice.

    Comment by Rick G — January 21, 2012 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

    • I know what you mean about the lack of visual art skills since I have the same problem. For the fantasy I’m currently writing, I’m intimately familiar with the territories covered in the story; however, I still use a reference map of the area to keep myself straight while I’m writing just like you suggest.

      Comment by bobspear — January 21, 2012 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  2. Excellent post, Bob!

    For stories with modern day, realistic settings, I find Google Street View to be a huge help. You can zoom down to street level and get a 360 degree view of the location. You can get restaurant and business names and all sort of other goodies, even down to whether there are cameras at an intersection.

    Comment by Clifford Fryman — January 23, 2012 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Cliff, I find your comment both very helpful and very scary at the same time. Big Brother is definitely capable of watching you.

      Comment by bobspear — January 23, 2012 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  3. Hi Bob,

    You’ve hit a major point with me. Even though I see the scene perfectly in my mind, sometimes I don’t describe the imagery well. Thank you for the reminder 🙂

    Comment by SusanJPOwens — January 23, 2012 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  4. Enjoyed your helpful comments at the writers’ group meeting last night. You might post sometime about what you called “family sagas”. In my case, it’s a tornado saga. Memories of surviving the May 22 Joplin tornado, and the problems of the aftermath occupy much of my waking moments. Getting this written down seems to take priority over my other long-delayed projects. I’m developing this work as a novel. Appreciated interacting with the group last night, Apoligize for staying so long.

    Comment by Peg Nichols — March 7, 2012 @ 3:49 pm | Reply

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