Getting Past a Setting Stall

A few posts back, I said that, this year, I was going to try & spend my first hour’s work on my fiction. So far (I know–a whole week!), that’s been going well. Probably because I’ve let myself have some freedom on what “work” means during that hour.

Specifically research settings.

My middle-grade mystery is set in “today,” in Santa Cruz, California–which is about 20 minutes away from my house. We go there frequently, not to all the places I used in my book, but definitely enough that I have a strong sense of how the town looks and the feel of the different communities there. (Things like Keep Santa Cruz Weird bumper stickers help!) So I could write my scenes through a few drafts, without any problem. Then, when I needed to remember how many times I felt like falling over at The Mystery Spot, or what route my MC would really take to the beach, I’d drive over with my camera and get the details right.

I’ve been to Chicago and back. I’ve reminded myself about all the brick–red, yellow, and an incredibly lovely pink—and the trees that maybe weren’t so big back then, but were probably around. But there are places I have never been. Like:

  • The inside of a tenement building
  • The lunchroom for workers in a 1913 department store
  • The particular train station my MC has to visit
  • Up the stairs into the 2nd or 3rd floor apartment OVER the dry-goods shop

What I found during the summer was that, if I have NO idea what my setting looks like, I have a LOT of trouble writing the scene. Even starting to write the scene. So I’m letting myself spend some of that morning hour with books and on the Internet–just looking for enough to let my imagination build something up, something I can play with.

Yes, I’m doing this for scenes that will change, for descriptions that may not even make it to the book. Or even the 2nd draft. But it’s letting me step into the world I’m writing about, back in time, and put some of that world onto the page. For now, that’s a good enough reason for me.

That, and the fact that I wrote an entire chapter last week, one I’m a LOT happier with than the many I wrote over the summer.

How about you? How much setting do you need to take the first step into a scene?


14 thoughts on “Getting Past a Setting Stall

  1. When I’m working on my contemporary projects, I don’t worry so much about setting since I know it. I can see it, taste it, smell it. But in PB, I had to do so much research ahead of time, so I could figure out the little details and write in a voice that fit the time period/setting of the story.


  2. I can empathize. I’m also one of those people who needs lots of information before I can write. I’ve been known to haunt research libraries – and Google Images is a godsend.


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