Creating a Sense of Place

Hi everyone! I hope y’all have been doing well these past few months!

I was honored to be invited to speak this weekend at the Northwest Georgia Writers Conference. The conference was hosted by the Calhoun Area Writers in Calhoun, Georgia, and it was a wonderful event!

I spoke about creating a sense of place in one’s writing, and I thought I would share my presentation slides with y’all! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or shoot me an email at danielle@daniellesingleton.com.

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I’m an internationally bestselling author. I’ve written six books and put in a lot of effort to learn the writing craft and create better and better stories for my readers. Hopefully these slides will help you in your writing as well!

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When creating your setting, you’re creating the foundation of the story. If readers don’t know where they are and can’t picture themselves in that setting with your characters, they’re going to have a hard time getting lost in the story. And you want them to get lost in the story! So think of it like a reverse funnel. Start small. Pick one element in a room or town or car or whatever the setting may be, and then build from that.

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Everyone says “show, don’t tell”, but it’s hard to know what that really means. For me, it means to slow it down. Don’t give your setting one or two sentences when it deserves one or two paragraphs or pages. Take the time to build the proper foundation for your story.

In doing so, make sure you use all five senses. Authors are pretty good about including sight and hearing, but make sure you address touch, smell, and taste also. Think about what you remember most about your grandmother’s house…cookies in the oven? The perfume she always wore? The smells or tastes that instantly transport you to another place and time. Use that concept when creating a sense of place.

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When I first started writing, I was shocked by how much research I needed to do in order to write a fake story. But it’s true – especially if you write realistic fiction like I do. You have to get those details correct. Because if you don’t, if you describe a real town in the wrong way, then people from that town will absolutely let you know that you messed up! And we all know the power of negative reviews. So put in the work and do your research.

In that vein, don’t think that “write what you know” is a limitation. If you want to write a story that takes place in Beijing, you don’t have to be from China. Or have even visited China. But you have to build and describe and evoke enough truth to make your readers think they’re in Beijing with the characters as the story is happening.

Tips: Google Maps and Google Earth can show you local landmarks, street layouts, etc. Google Images can give you a sense of the look of a place. Trip Advisor reviews are very useful to fill in the more human elements (is it crowded? Does it smell? What are the people there like?).

Don’t trust Wikipedia or other websites that can be user edited. Or, rather, “trust but verify”. Click on the footnotes at the bottom of the Wikipedia articles in order to see the original sources used. Don’t be naive and get caught out relying on a shady source.

Also, use experts! People love to be interviewed as background for books. They think it’s so cool. I’ve never been turned down when I’ve asked someone to be a research source. So use your contacts or just send an email to someone and say “hi, I’m writing a book and would love to ask you a few questions to help in my research. Would you be willing to meet with me, or perhaps I can just send you the questions in email format?” Make it easy for them to help you, and chances are they will!

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My first book, Safe and Sound, is about a group of college girls who travel to Mexico for vacation and are kidnapped. A large portion of the story takes place after they’re kidnapped and while they’re being held hostage. So I knew I had to get that setting right. I had to do a great job creating a sense of place for my readers and putting them in the room with the girls. Below is one paragraph – of many – that I used to describe that setting. Note the use of sight, touch, and comparison to build the image of the room.

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I hope this information is helpful to you! Like I said, feel free to ask me any questions you may have!

A Letter to My Readers

Although it may not always seem that way, writing books is a form of art. As a literary artist, I know firsthand that crafting a novel requires significant time, effort, and mental and emotional energy. An artist has to be in the right place in order to create. Not necessarily the right physical location, but definitely the right mental one. And especially the right emotional one.

Unfortunately, I’m not in that place right now.

I’ve tried and tried and tried to work on my next book and make it into the story I want it to be, but it’s just not there right now. To force it would be a disservice to myself, to you my readers, and to the story. Even though I really, really want to, I just can’t.

The closest thing I can compare it to is a romantic relationship. Relationships require significant time, effort, and mental and emotional energy. And even if you really, really want it to work – even if you’ve met someone who is so amazing it blows your mind – even if you think that the two of you could be grandkids and 50th wedding anniversary fantastic together . . . if you’re not in the right place in your life, it’s not going to work. The fact that the other person is so amazing and so deserving of happily ever after only makes it worse, because you know exactly how great they are and exactly what they deserve – but you also know that for whatever reason you can’t give that to them right now. And you respect them too much to lie to them and waste their time with anything less than your best. There’s nothing you or the other person or anyone else can do about it. You just need time and space to get back to being who you want and need to be.

I know how amazing my readers are. I know how great my next couple of stories are, and I know that Danielle Singleton at her best is capable of delivering a novel worthy of your time, money, and attention.

I can’t deliver that right now, though. I don’t really know why, and I don’t know when I will be again.

I hope you’ll understand. I hope you’ll still be around when I do resume writing. Please know that it is precisely because I respect you so much and precisely because I respect the art so much that I’m going to take a break. So that when I do come back – because I will – I’ll be able to give you what you deserve.

Thank you in advance for your understanding and your patience. You have no idea how much your support means to me.

With warmest regards, I’ll see you soon.

Danielle

95: Invictus

I’ll be completely honest with y’all…I have nothing profound, insightful, entertaining, or otherwise newsworthy to share this week. I thought about skipping the blog post altogether, but that would ruin my streak of 95 weeks in a row, so we can’t have that.

I decided instead to leave y’all with a poem that often inspires me when I’m feeling challenged or tired or even just misunderstood. I hope that, even if you don’t need its words now, you’ll remember them when you do!

Invictus

by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

 

94: Help Me Pick a Book Title!

Hey everyone! Happy February! (Wait, it’s February already? Whut?)

As frequent readers of my blog already know, I’m currently hard at work on Book #7. It’s a psychological thriller set to be released sometime this spring, and it’s in need of a title!

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: an open call for suggestions on what the book title should be.

I’ve included a synopsis below. After you read it, please suggest a title or two in the comments. If I pick yours, you’ll get a special shout-out in the Acknowledgments section of the book!

Thanks in advance – and I hope you like this teaser! 🙂

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Richard Lewis entered Mountainside Psychiatric Hospital when he was sixteen years old, diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and a danger to himself and society. Now thirty-seven, Richard spends hours each day scribbling song lyrics and other gibberish in a journal. The hospital’s director, Doug Leaman, must read the journal in order to monitor Richard’s treatment.

One day, the writing changes. It is no longer the ramblings of a madman, but rather complex, detailed stories of intrigue and murder. Sensing an opportunity to promote the hospital (and himself), Dr. Leaman submits Richard’s writing to a local book agent.

When Katelynn Williams receives a query letter from Mountainside, she is intrigued. The writing is good, the author’s background is compelling and unique, and the marketing opportunities are endless. On a hunch, Katelynn sends the manuscript to her brother Allen, an FBI agent who lives in Washington, DC. “Let me know if the details in the stories are realistic enough,” she tells him.

Five minutes after opening the document, Allen calls his sister demanding to know where she got the information, who the author is, and who else may have seen the manuscript. Because Richard Lewis’ schizophrenic writings aren’t schizophrenic writings at all: they’re behind-the-scenes, from the murderer’s perspective accounts of some of the FBI’s most notorious unsolved cases.

Together with his fiancé Reagan (also an FBI agent), Allen reopens the investigations and must determine how a man who has been institutionalized for over twenty years could know so much about a string of murders that happened on the outside. Is Richard Lewis the killer? The killer’s confessor? And when another body is discovered, this time carrying with it a message for the FBI, Allen and Reagan must race against the clock to find and stop the true madman in their midst.

93: Featured reader – Monique

Another week, another awesome reader to introduce to y’all!

Remember: if you want to be my next featured reader, let me know in the comments (or send me an email)!

This week’s featured reader: Monique

Monique is a native of Texas and now makes her home in the great state of Georgia.

A little more about her:

1. How many of Danielle’s books have you read? Just one so far, but I’d like to read her newest book, Secrets of the Deep, next.

2. Do you have a favorite? By default, The Containment Zone.

3. What other types of books do you like to read? Mostly historical fiction, mysteries/suspense/thrillers, and the occasional biography.

4. Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate! Get out of town, vanilla.

5. Beach or mountains? Mountains

6. If you had to trade lives with a character from one of Danielle’s books, who one would you choose and why?  I would trade lives with Prime Minister Rodgers from The Containment Zone because I think she has the ability to influence and affect change for the better within her country and internationally. I would also like to serve as a positive role model, as she seems to in the novel. 

Thanks so much, Monique! Happy reading!

92: Featured reader: Allison

Hey everyone!

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so meet this week’s featured reader!

Allison is a longtime resident of Atlanta, Georgia and also happens to be a member of my Reading Committee!


Learn more about Allison below!

How many of Danielle’s books have you read? All of them.

Do you have a favorite? Whenever Danielle comes out with a new book, it usually becomes my new favorite. So right now my favorite is Secrets of the Deep.

What other types of books do you like to read? I don’t really read any other type of books. I like the mystery/suspense style of Danielle’s books, James Patterson, etc.

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate!

Beach or mountains? Beach

If you had to trade lives with a character from one of Danielle’s books, who would you choose and why? Reagan White from Do No Harm and The Enemy Within. She’s strong and out for justice.

Thanks so much to Allison for being this week’s featured reader! If you want to be next, let me know in the comments or send me an email!

91: Book Giveaway Winners!

Happy Wednesday to all! I hope your 2017 is off to a great start!

As some of you may know, January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In an effort to raise awareness of the scourge of modern slavery, I held a giveaway contest via my social media pages. The winners will receive a free signed copy of my bestselling novel Price of Life.

(In case you’re not already, be sure to check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!)

Without further ado, the contest winners (chosen randomly) are:

Katharine Faucett 

Becky Kelly

Many thanks to everyone who entered! I promise to do another giveaway soon!

Until then, back to writing I go!

90: How to Follow Through (in Writing and Life)

Happy 2017 everyone! I hope y’all had a wonderful holiday season!

Since we’re all now back to the grind, this blog post will be as well.

I’ve written previously about pushing through the most difficult part of a book: the middle. The big parts are finished, the end isn’t quite yet in sight, and you just have to keep plugging away and following through on that promise to yourself and your readers of a finished book.

Following through. Oof. Easier said than done sometimes, right?

You mean well and sometimes even make plans but then that thing called life gets in the way. Maybe the hiccup really was out of your control…we all have times when work, family, etc. spoil the best of intentions. Or maybe you “let” life get in the way…sometimes it’s easier to blame circumstances than to follow through.

What if you’re like the billions of your fellow Earthlings and want to get better at following through? Heck, that’s why so many people set New Years Resolutions, right? An attempt to follow through on a goal?

Well, here are Danielle’s tips for finishing what you start and becoming the reliable person/goal achiever that you’ve always wanted to be! (Hopefully I’ll remember to listen to my own advice! 😉)

1. Priorities

Figure out what is important. There is a limited amount of time in each day and we have to allocate that resource wisely. Some things will inevitably take high priority: sleep, family, and work. But if there’s a new activity that you want to bump up the list, you have to do just that: bump it up the list. Which means something else will inevitably get bumped down. But following through begins with knowing where things stand in your life, so that you can…

2. Only commit if you mean it

Sometimes we get a little too ambitious. We get a little too wrapped up in the moment and we think “sure, I can write a book in 4 months” or “I’ve never run in my life but I’m gonna finish a marathon each month this year” or something else absurd. Our time is precious (see #1), so only commit to something if you really mean it. Otherwise, you’ll feel guilty when you don’t follow through and you’ll run the risk of earning a reputation as a flake. And remember:

3. No excuses

The vast majority of successful people are successful because they want it more. Because when you really want something, you’re willing to sacrifice for it. For example, my mom and I watched every episode of Gilmore Girls when I was growing up. When I went away to college, we would call each other during the opening credits to sing the show’s theme song (yes, we’re crazy). And even though new episodes were released the day after Thanksgiving, I haven’t watched them. Because as much as I loved Lorelai and Rory, I love writing more. And I want to be a successful author more. 

The trick to following through? As Nike said, just do it. No excuses. If you want it, if you really want it, you’ll make it happen.

89: Happy New Year

I’ll keep this one short and sweet,

Unlike 2016, this message will be nice and neat.

As we say goodbye to far too many beloved faces,

And close the book on bitter political races,

Let us pause and give thanks for 2017

And everything that the new year will mean.

A fresh start, a clean slate

With more love, and less hate.

Second chances and new beginnings,

Open doors – or perhaps overdue endings.

Whatever this new year shall bring,

I hope above all we get this one thing:

Be happy. 

Be you. 

Be grateful. 

Be true.

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Wishing you all a very blessed 2017!

88: Modern (Holy) Family

Over in the Middle East, a couple just got married. The circumstances behind the marriage were less than desirable (both are still teenagers), but they’re in love and the girl got pregnant and, well, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, right?

Like many young couples, they’re broke. To make matters worse, their local government is notoriously inept and they have to go to the husband’s hometown in person in order to pay their taxes (umm…PayPal, anyone? Venmo? C’mon man).

Their car breaks down several times along the way, and they can’t even call Uber because his hometown is in the middle of nowhere. Pregnant, cold, and hungry, the wife and mom-to-be is wondering what in the world she got herself into. The husband and dad-to-be is realizing that his own father was right about how hormonal women can be when they’re pregnant. And why couldn’t I just mail in the tax form like all normal people do?, he thinks as he works to change the car’s tire yet again.

When they finally arrive in Po-dunk-ville (as she likes to call it), all of the hotels are full. Well, all of the hotels we can afford anyway, she thinks. But her back has been hurting her since this morning, her feet are swollen, and she’s feeling a bit nauseous, so when the hotel manager mentions off-hand that they can sleep in the barn if they want to, she jumps at the chance.

A barn, she thinks to herself. Holy cow, I really did marry a good ol’ boy from the country.

Several hours later, though, the newlywed bride isn’t thinking about how the barn smells like manure, that the wind is whipping through holes in the wooden walls and turning them all into popsicles, or how her in-laws and husband’s other relatives seriously suck for not offering them a place to sleep. This is their town, after all. Making us stay at a hotel? For real? Okay…so maybe she is thinking about that last one a little bit.

But most of her thoughts are focused on the watermelon-sized human being forcing its way out of her body and into the world.

A baby.

A boy.

There’s no crib, no blankets, and no Curious George mobile dangling from the ceiling to play lullabies and help the infant sleep. The only songs her son gets to hear are the baying, grunts, and groans of animals in the barn.

I should’ve taken that job in the factory like my parents told me to, the new father thinks. But then his wife places the baby in his arms and all of the cold, uncertainty, and fear melts into love.

The warm fuzzies don’t last long, though. Their country is ruled by a crazy dictator and he decides that all baby boys are a threat and need to die. Hearing this, the teenage father knows they only have one option: run away.

Leaving behind everything and everyone they know, the young family flees to a country in the West that promises protection, a certain degree of religious freedom, and jobs. They’re safe in the Empire in the West, but they’re not entirely welcome either.

I promise, honey, as soon as we can return home, we will.

***

Teen parents. Poverty. Violence. Fleeing one’s homeland.

Sound familiar? It’s not unlike the stories we hear and see on the news every day in 2016, no?

A young boy, two or three years old, crossing dangerous waters with his family in order to reach safety? That could easily be Alan Kurdi, could it not? The little Syrian boy who drowned in the Aegean Sea?

Or perhaps the story sounds familiar for another reason. Perhaps those teenagers aren’t in a car. Perhaps they’re riding a donkey. Perhaps Uber doesn’t exist, and perhaps the reason they can’t mail in their tax form is because taxes are counted based on a census for which everyone must be present in person. Perhaps the safe country in the West isn’t Greece or the United States. Perhaps it is Egypt. Perhaps the teenagers are named Joseph and Mary, and perhaps that baby boy is Jesus.

This hasn’t been the easiest of years for many of us personally or for all of us collectively as a country and a world. We’ve lost loved ones and heroes. We’ve seen old wounds ripped open and begun to question if cracks are appearing in foundations we once deemed unbreakable. But in these times of struggle, it is even more important to remember the virtues and values that bind us all together. Let us see ourselves in others, and perhaps they will see themselves in us.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.