Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Taking A Field Trip To Your Setting

Field trips are always an adventure to kids and teens. Whether the location of the trip is a local farm or New York City, there is always new and interesting information that is learned by the student.

Fortunately for writers, we don't need a car in order to take a field trip to our setting. Of course, that would be nice. But why waste valuable time and money when you can be transported to your setting with only the tap of a few keys? With the technology available today, you shouldn't have to visit your library in order to research your setting. However, you can if you'd like. But the internet is a valuable source with tons of information, and it might have almost everything you need to know about where your story takes place.

Research is vital for a writer. Before you begin writing your novel, and during the process, you should constantly be gathering information based on where your story takes place. Even if this place is only fictional, there are a several things that you should take note of during your research or creation of the setting:
  • The population. Does your setting have a large population, or is it small?
  • The climate. Does it rain often, or is it too dry? Is it constantly snowing during the winter, or does it only get a few drops of snow every couple of years?
  • The historic background of your setting. Are there any important details that would be nice to include in your story explaining how this place came to be what it is today?
  • If your setting is in a small town, but near a big city, jot the name of that city down and and do a quick research on that city.
  • Places to eat and shop. Where can your characters hang out?
  • Are there certain landmarks at this place that could make your story unique? For example, is there a popular bridge or a waterfall that attracts tourists to the area?
  • Lastly, explore your setting on Google Earth. What is the layout of this town? View the satellite images and travel down the roads. Take note of any of the houses that you may pass by. Are there mostly mansions, cottages, or just average-sized houses? You could even do a Google search of the houses for sell in that area, and take a quick little tour inside those homes.
After gathering this information, ask yourself these questions:
  1. How can I bring out the unique elements of my setting?
  2. What made me choose this place my setting?
  3. Are my characters interacting with the setting, or is the setting only part of the background?
  4. How has the setting affected my main character, making them who he/she is today? (Example: A setting in Arizona would be more likely to have a cowboy live there than an Eskimo.)
  5. Finally, what is the MC's attitude towards this place? Does he/she want to escape as soon as possible, or are they in love with it and never want to leave? How can I tie this into the plot of the story?

Play around with your setting. There are many ways that you can use your setting to be part of the plot, and not just in the background. It should be just as realistic to your reader as the main character.

After you have taken a field trip to your setting, how do you begin to weave in the details to your story? Click here for a post I wrote a few months ago explaining ways to do this.

Remember, your setting shouldn't only be where your story takes place, but a part of the story itself. Don't push it away, but bring it out.

Have fun on your field trip adventure!

"Any settings can potentially acquire this vividness.
It slowly arrives during the period of research,
until it is as immediate to me as my own real surroundings."
~Rose Tremain

What are some other things that writers should take note of during the process of research?
How long do your "field trips" usually take?
Why do you think gathering all of this information is so crucial for a writer?


  1. I would have loved to have visited western Kansas while writing my book. Instead I had to rely on what I'd read and seen via books, maps, and the Internet. Both my editor and agent asked if I had Kansas connections, which was wonderful. Hopefully I'll get to spend some time there once my book comes out.

  2. Excellent article. Whenever possible, it's always valuable to visit your settings. However, I will point that, when it isn't possible, there are usually very effective ways around it. Research allows us to present very realistic settings without ever needing to leave the comfort of our own homes.

  3. Caroline Starr Rose: I think authors should definitely visit their settings if they have the chance. Fortunately for me, after the first writing conference I attended this past May I was able to stop by a place in NC which is where my story takes place. I hadn't even realized that it was only about a half hour from the conference!

    K.M. Weiland: Usually people suggest writing about a place in which you grew up or you are currently living so that you are able to write based on experience. I think that's great for those who have lived in extravagant places - but for me, I've grown up in a small town that I don't really have much interest in and don't exactly think it'd make a unique book setting. I love taking "field trips" to different locations for my books, places that I've never been to. It's an adventure writing about somewhere that you've never been before. =)

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  5. Google Earth! I'd never thought of that. It's brilliant. Thank you!


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