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!

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One thought on “Creating a Sense of Place

  1. Very interesting look at the writing process. Look forward to more Writing Wednesdays, even if it comes on Sunday 😀

    Brian

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    Like

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