Setting…perhaps more important than you think!

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Friends of ACFW, Setting, writing Leave a Comment

By Roxanne Rustand

Where do you start, on your journey toward a cohesive and sellable story? There is no single right or wrong way. Ask most writers, and they will say they use a consistent starting point each time they start a book.

Some to start with a general plot idea, as in “I want to write a book about a young woman during the Gold Rush.”

Some start with the vision of an exciting crisis situation at the end, or satisfying denouement.

Some like to start with an intriguing character or conflict.

Some like to start with a specific setting.

I usually start with setting. Why? Because I’ll essentially be “living there” for the months it takes to write a book. I want to use areas that intrigue me…places that will intrigue readers. Places that will lend themselves to the kinds of stories I want to write–whether because of the inherent challenges of the rugged geography, or the inclement weather, or a remote location far from resources such as law enforcement and health care. To that end, I have used places like Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, the lush, beautiful Northwoods of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico.
Choosing the right setting for your story can make all the difference. An urban setting is worlds apart from a folksy, middle-of-America small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Think about the socio-economic mix in a breezy, upscale California coastal town filled with art galleries and trendy restaurants versus a remote fishing community along the coast of northern Maine. How might those two different settings affect a suspense story? Or a romance? And, the types of people who would live there, and the conflicts that setting might create?

How differently would your suspense play out in the bitter cold of a remote, vacant resort in northern Minnesota during the dead of winter, where the sheriff might be an hour away, the electricity is flickering and the winter winds are relentlessly howling, rattling the windows; versus a sunny, lazy retirement community in Florida?

The seasons, weather, and the “personality” of the geographical area you choose can provide a rich fabric of believable secondary characters and activities, and even become a character itself. Sandra Brown’s secular book Slow Heat in Heaven is a good example of an evocative setting where even the oppressive heat becomes a major component of the story.

How do the settings in Jan Karon’s Mitford books affect her stories, as compared to the way setting affects Colleen Coble’s wonderful Black Sands, Alaska Twilight, or Abomination? If you switched the Mitford and Coble settings, how would the stories be affected?

How do you choose the settings for your own manuscript? Have you ever had to start over and use a different setting because the first didn’t quite work for your story?

Best wishes to you all for a lovely summer!

Roxanne RustandRoxanne Rustand is the USA Today bestselling author of four self-published sweet romances and over thirty-five traditionally published novels. She is currently under contract with Love Inspired for three new books, and her “An Irish Christmas Blessing” novella will be part of the Sweet Christmas Kisses Volume II anthology this fall. Visit Roxanne at &

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