NaNoCoDo #3 Setting and Locations

Where and when is your story set? What’s the difference between setting and location? Why should I make any notes about these?

I use these terms to mean slightly different things. A location is a physical place, a setting is more to do with the mythology of your story.

Location first. You could use a real place or make something up entirely from scratch. It doesn’t matter – as long as you know it well enough to picture in your head. This is the time to draw maps / construct floorplans / collect photos into a folder. Whatever it takes. Get a clear image in your head and start writing details. Not just the appearance – engage all the senses. What can you hear? Can you smell flowers blooming at the particular time of year? And so on. Your reader wants to believe they are in this place for your story – so you need to go there first.

Settings. I often hear people confuse this with plot when they tell me they’ve got a great idea for a novel. The conversation goes something like this…

Stranger: “Hey – you’re a writer. I’ve got this brilliant idea for a bestselling novel. But I don’t have time sit and write it. Tell you what – I’ll tell you the plot, you go away and write it and we split the profits 50:50.”


Stranger: “Well, there’s this really clever device that was made centuries ago and the knowledge to make it has been lost. Except for a group of weirdoes who hide as some sort of cult and they’re really the powers behind all the monarchies and governments we thing are actually in control and there’s this really clever guy who realises…”


Stranger: “You see, there’s this kid and he’s really downtrodden and has to do everything his stepdad says and he’s really a special person ‘cos he’s got this magical… Hey – you’re not taking notes! Are you sure you’ll remember all this?”

Now, this isn’t a plot. It’s a setting. It’s the situation of a character at the start of a story. It’s background info and the reader doesn’t want to read it all! No, I’m not taking notes and I’m not about to split any profits with you. If you really think there’s a book in the idea, then write it for yourself. You’ll be surprised how many ideas go into a novel.

So – write a short back-history for your MC. Describe their situation and relationships to other people at the start of your story. That’s your setting.

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