Things to Think About When You Choose Your Setting

Last night was the second night of Settings for my Twitter chat, #smutchat. We don’t just talk about smut, we talk about lots of things about the craft, and where you set your story was one of the topics.

How do you know where your story is going to take place?


Generally, this is a no-brainer. If you’re writing fantasy, more than likely your characters are going to move around a world that resembles medieval times.  A story with a Prince cursed with magical powers who needed to fend off an evil sorceress wouldn’t have the same feel if it were set in present-day New York City. Along those lines, if you are writing a time-traveling saga, the historical periods you choose for them to travel to will play a huge role in where your story will take place. A contemporary romance wouldn’t be contemporary if you set your story in 1700 England.  You get the idea.

But when we talk about settings, we need to dig deeper than just the time and the place. The smaller details can have a huge impact on your story.

When I chose to write Summer Secrets, the first thing that popped into my head were couples on a vacation at a fishing resort.  I didn’t think beyond that setting other than each couple stayed in their own cabin, and each couple would have their own story. But as I began writing, I noticed how this setting both positively and negatively affected my characters.



For every positive, there was a negative. They were on vacation, which meant they were relaxed, in a good mood. But as the story went on, the characters also got bored, and they rubbed on each other’s nerves. This created conflict that I didn’t foresee, but it was great planning on my part all the same.

In this vein I also didn’t realize exactly what cutting them off from other people would do. They were forced to talk to each other, whether they were tired of each other or not. As the title suggests, each couple kept secrets from each other and forcing my characters to talk because they didn’t have anyone else to talk to created some very tense dialogue, and of course, the unveiling of those secrets.

The setting caused some issues for people vacationing from the city: my characters got lost while hiking, bit by bugs, almost drowned, were hurt from falling in terrain they weren’t accustomed to.  Putting my characters into another environment would have worked too, so long as they were strangers to that environment so it would have caused outside conflict that they had to handle along with the internal conflict of being pushed together.

Choosing a lake resort gave my characters plenty of room for themselves where they thought things through, assumed things, came to erroneous conclusions. The seclusion also made my characters feel even more alone with their problems and secrets.  On the flip side, they also found peace being away from city life.


When you think of your setting, look at it as a character in its own right. And when you create your setting be it world building for a fantasy, or choosing a city for your romance novel, think of some of these things:

  1. How will it positively affect your characters? Your character moves to the city of her dreams. Your male MC moves next door to the girl he’s always wanted to marry. Your character wins a trip on a cruise, or your knight on a quest finds a prosperous kingdom.
  2. How will your setting negatively affect your characters?  Your MC’s mother moves next door and makes your MC’s life a living hell.  Your MC’s boss hits on her at work, so now she views her workplace as a nightmare she must go to every day until she finds another job. The mansion your MC inherits from her uncle is haunted.
  3. How will the setting make your character feel?  An empty lake could exaggerate a character’s feeling of loneliness. A hospital setting could remind your character of an accident from his childhood and he feels fear when visiting his sick sister. A crowded room could make your character feel anxious and claustrophobic–maybe she was abused as a child and locked in a closet.
  4. Incorporate all the senses when writing about your setting.  Sight is the most common because we’re writers and we describe what our characters see. But what do they smell when they enter a diner? Greasy fish that turns her stomach? Visiting her mother’s home, does the smell of apple pie bring her back to her high school days after school?  Does your MC love her cat, but hates when her cat licks her because the cat’s tongue is too rough for her sunburnt skin? Does the music playing from a car passing by remind her of a date gone wrong?
  5. Setting can help you weave backstory into your character’s lives and novel. A man must go back to his hometown and gradually we learn why he left in the first place.

For me, the setting will pop into my head along with the characters and some of the plot. When I went to California, it was my first time in LAX and I was curious if I was going to see any celebrities (I didn’t), but being in an airport I had never been in before made a story pop into my head, characters, plot and all.  I’m champing at the bit to write it.


In this day of technology with Google and Google maps, it’s easier than ever to set a story where you’ve never been. You can go anywhere the world; the setting for your next story is at your fingertips.

How do you decide on your setting?

More tips on choosing your setting:

#Smutchat’s Settings Part 2 Giveaway

Here’s the lovely link for the giveaway tonight! I’m doing something a little different, and I partnered with Jewel who was sweet enough to volunteer to give her book away.  Please see her interview about her book!

Good luck, and thanks for playing!

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A Fun Interview with Jewel E. Leonard about her book, Rays of Sunshine!

Jewel's FB Author Pic

Today I interviewed Jewel E. Leonard about her book, Rays of Sunshine. We’re talking about Settings for #smutchat this week, and I was interested in how she came to choose her setting for Tales by Rails, her first novella in the book. Listen in to how she wrote her steamy story!


What have you been working on lately?

I am up to my neck in edits for the second book of The Witches’ Rede series. Mostly now I’m writing scenes I failed to get to when I originally wrote this book several years ago during NaNoWriMo. I consider it punishment for a job not-well-done. (Just kidding. Sorta.)
This book was a dumpster fire the way I left it, and I’m pleased to say it’s turning out superbly well with my edits.

#SmutChat’s theme this week is settings. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on Tales by Rails. Your novella is set on a train. How did you choose that location?

To be honest, I gave it little thought; it seemed the natural choice.
When I started writing Tales by Rails, I really didn’t have anything planned for it as it started with what became the opening lines of narration that popped into my head just as I was falling asleep one night. Then as more of the story started coming to me, placing the–ahem–action on a train was a little bit fantasy fulfillment for yours truly.

Have you traveled by train before? (If you have, how was your experience?)

Oh absolutely, many times–California to Pennsylvania and back (twice), California to New Hampshire and back, California to Nebraska and back, Arizona to Texas and back. Like Surfer Boy, I don’t fly.
My experiences with Amtrak have been wildly variable … I wouldn’t recommend taking the train unless you can afford a private “roomette,” as they call the downstairs cabins (Superliners, like the one in Tales by Rails, have two stories–some coach seats downstairs with the roomettes, and coach seats all on the second level).
I had a few trips where nothing went horribly wrong, and some trips where Murphy’s Law was the rule of the rails.
Lost luggage, the dining car splitting from the train and leaving passengers with nothing but the snack car for sustenance, no air conditioning in the heat, heater turned full-blast at night and nothing to be done about it, smokers sneaking cigarettes on board (Amtrak is strictly non-smoking now and was at that time), smoking section sharing a car with a non-smoking section because clearly the smoke will be so kind as to stop at some invisible barrier (this was back in the days before Amtrak went non-smoking), old seats eager to snap at a finger if you tried to recline them, and don’t get me started on the state of the bathrooms at the end of several thousand miles … and there was one trip where we were pretty sure the train was breaking speed limits to get through nasty weather through the Midwest, which spurred a conversation about what happens should a tornado meet a train that scared passengers around us (oopsie) …
Having said all that–a good trip on Amtrak is well worth the fare and yes, I miss going, and double-yes, I sometimes wish I could just drop everything and run away the way Rhea does at the beginning of Tales by Rails.

Did you find yourself restricted in any way by the setting while you were writing?

With the train layover in Albuquerque enabling Surfer Boy to run to a nearby convenience store for some necessities not sold aboard the train, no, I really didn’t feel especially restricted.
Picking compact quarters was also a tip I picked up from a theater class I took as an elective at a community college a few years ago. The plays we studied all took place in one room, generally with more characters than can comfortably fit in them.
Combining tight spaces and two strangers with undeniable chemistry is a quick and dirty way to create tension. In my case, sexual tension.
And yeah, you’d better believe all that entendre was deliberate. 😉

What did you like most about the setting?

I found the setting especially conducive to speeding along the “natural course of events” between Surfer Boy and Rhea, when it almost certainly would have progressed far more slowly under other circumstances. When you’ve got a first-time rail-rider who didn’t especially prepare for her trip, there’s really very little to do if you’re not interested in talking to random people in an Amtrak observation car.
Basically, to be blunt, “trapped” in a tiny Amtrak roomette, if Rhea and Surfer Boy weren’t entertaining each other, they were bored out of their minds.

The sequel to Tales by Rails, Smiles by Trials, is not set on a train. How different was your experience writing the two books?

Smiles by Trials was more difficult … but not only did I expand Rhea’s world into a slightly fictionalized version of Illinois, I introduced several new characters with an assortment of complications, each, and the short novel spanned many months. It was more complicated all around, but more rewarding and–to my shock–seems to be more well-received than the novella that came before it.

Do you think you will write about trains in the future?

Seeing as I’m writing in the old west for The Witches’ Rede, including (steam) trains seems necessary. The railyards of Tucson are featured in book one (with a scene on a west-bound train omitted from the beginning), and there’s quite a bit of train that pops up in book two, with a rather —–never mind that. That’s spoilery. 😉
But yes, trains seem to be a staple in my writing these days, though I imagine that will change once The Witches’ Rede is complete.

Thank you, Jewel, for taking the time to answer some questions and for giving away a paperback copy of Rays of Sunshine during #smutchat this week! Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and bookmark her website.  Take a moment to subscribe to her newsletter to stay up to date on everything she has going on this year!

Her books are available on Amazon! Don’t forget to check them out!


#SmutChat Settings Giveaway

Thanks for participating in #smutchat tonight! I hope you all had a great time!

The giveaway for today is Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s book The Urban Settings Thesaurus.

Good luck!


Enter here:

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Which Came First? The Chicken or the Egg?

This is going to be a touchy post. Not uncomfortable touchy-feely like your creepy neighbor, more touchy-feely like you’ll probably get mad. At me, at my thoughts about the indie-publishing industry, whatever.

Indie writers are famous (infamous?) for not liking being told what to do. They don’t like being told to write every day, they don’t like being told not to genre-hop, they don’t like being told write to market. No head-hopping, no weird 1st person to 3rd person shifts in the middle of a novel, no using their artistic license to do what they want.

And that’s really great–up to a point. Yes, write what you love. For sure. Use 100 POVs in a novella because you think they fit, do that crazy cover because you want to stand out. Do whatever the hell you want because it’s your book, you’re self-publishing it, and you don’t have to answer to anyone.

There’s disdain for the traditional publishing industry. I know there is because I’ve felt it myself. When I attended the Minnesota Writer’s conference I went to a workshop on how to self-publish your novel. That she ran her own self-publishing firm seemed a conflict of interest to me, but anyway, her firm hired out everything. She hired out the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover. They did it all for you for a hefty tune of $5,000-$10,000. I could hear dreams shattering around me like fragile champagne glasses thrown against a stone fireplace mantle. (Romantic, yes?) Having already published 1700 for free (I only paid for my ISBN number) I sat there shaking my head.

But between then and now I had a realization. She wasn’t trying to rip anyone off. On the contrary, what she was actually trying to get across was that when you self-publish, especially when you self-publish, you are in charge of the quality of your book.  You are in charge of how good the story is, you are in charge of how eye-catching the cover is. You are in charge to make sure the inside of your book is not a hot mess. The speaker of that workshop discouraged a lot of people from ever trying to self-publish because they didn’t know where else to look for information. They didn’t realize that you could self-publish for free (or for cheaper than $5,000!).


It’s too bad because the only thing she was trying to press upon the attendees of her workshop was that a certain standard is expected when a reader opens a book.

Traditional publishing is under a lot of fire lately for not being flexible and not changing their ways to adapt to what the publishing industry is turning into. I agree that to keep up with the output of indie authors they are going to step up their game and do things differently. But while distribution and output may change, the point is, quality is something a reader can always expect from a traditionally published book.  And whether you want to believe it or not, a reader is going to want that same quality from your book, too.

Oh, I know, you’ve found typos in books. I read a book recently and a whole speech tag was missing in a sentence. I don’t know how it slipped by an editor, but it did. There have always been typos. And there will be more as the publishing industry has to tighten their bootstraps and make budget cuts. But for every little mistake that slips by in a trad-pubbed book, there things a reader can expect to get from a book they bought from a big publisher:

  1. A story that makes sense in terms of plot, characters, and POV.
  2. A cover that looks nice that will hint at what the book is about.
  3. A blurb that also makes sense and makes a potential customer want to read the book.
  4. Formatting inside that doesn’t distract from the reading experience.

An author who is traditionally-published doesn’t have to worry about that stuff, and unless they go hybrid and self-publish as well as have their books trad-published, they won’t have to.

But you will. Not knowing isn’t a valid reason. If you want people to read your book, and read the next one you write, and the next, you have to take ownership of your work. It isn’t unheard of for indie-authors to revamp their first books as they publish more and learn more. I redid the cover for 1700, fixed typos, and fixed some formatting errors.

Anyway, the point I’m getting at with this post is that you are responsible for the quality of your book. Going rogue in the name of artistic license may feel good at the time, but how good is it going to feel if it ultimately means giving up sales and maybe even sullying your reputation as a writer?

The best way to know how to format your book is to look at one. Check one out at the library, or go to the bookstore and look through several in your genre. When I wrote my front matter for 1700, I took the book I was reading and copied it. You’ll notice in a trad-pubbed book the margins are justified, there are pages numbers, the book’s title and author name in the headers. There aren’t any spaces between paragraphs (this is a big pet peeve of mine).

There’s no doubt that the publishing industry is changing. But like anything that changes, you want things to get better, not worse.

Tell me what you think! Am I being too picky?

Other articles on self-publishing quality:


Naming Your Baby, I Mean, Ah, Book

I read books. I read lots and lots of books. Which, even though Stephen King says you can’t be a good writer if you don’t have time to read, is actually unusual for a writer. Most writers, especially those who don’t have much time to write, spend their time writing. That makes sense, right?  Right. But I read a lot of books, and sometimes I’ll have an epiphany.

Right now I’m reading Making More Money: Habits, Tactics, and Strategies for Making a Living as a Writer by Honoree Corder and Brian D. Meeks, and I had an epiphany.

How does a writer title their books, short stories, blog posts?

I suck at it.

And that was my epiphany.

No, not that I suck at creating titles for my books and stories. I knew that already.

No, I realized that On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton is the worst book title in the world. It was what I had named it while I was writing it, and I never changed it.

I should have.

Because I will never know how much money that sucky title cost me. In sales, in readers, in exposure. In anything that has to do with selling books.

Which is too bad because the story inside is really good.

Anyway, where was I going with this?  I should have chosen a better title for my book. It’s about a guy in a bar called The Maze. I practically named the book myself while I was writing it, but did I use it? Nope. Even the new cover has a picture of a maze on it.

I blew it. Big time.

Anyway, back to the book I’m in the middle of reading. The authors talk about where to advertise. They talk about your cover, your description. Keywords. They haven’t, so far, mentioned the story itself, because I’m assuming they expect you to publish quality work. And they don’t talk about your book’s title. It would have been nice if they had.

How important is a book’s title? As important as the description? The cover? The reviews? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

It must matter somewhat because when I do research on deciding a book title, I read over and over again how to choose something that is not being used a million times. (This is easy enough to find, just search for that title in Books on Amazon and see what comes up.) But you also don’t want to name your book something so crazy in an attempt to stand out that it sounds out of place in your genre.

Choosing a title, writing your blurb, choosing your keywords, and creating your cover all need to go together to complement what your book is about in an attempt to achieve maximum sales and a high number of reviews.

I wish I would have known how important titles are when I named 1700. I do now, and I won’t be making any more mistakes. My title will make sense, my cover will tell readers what genre they are reading, and my tight description will hook them into the plot.

title blog picture

The problem is, we can’t know what turns a potential customer off. They might see past a sucky cover if the description is well-written and grabs their attention. Some might not do anything more than look at a horrible cover and move along. Some go directly to the reviews and if they are all glowing reports of a wonderful read, they don’t pay attention to anything else. Without knowing how a potential reader chooses their next read, it’s imperative that we get all the pieces of the book spot-on the first time around.

I’ve learned my lesson with Summer Secrets. I researched the title; I researched the genre. The title will match the cover and the description will be a hook so well-written that no one reading it could possibly turn away. I’ll try by best with the keywords. Unfortunately, reviews are out of my hands, but I can get the title right.

This time.

How do you think of names for your books/stories/blogs?

Articles about choosing a title:

Protect Your Summer Writing Time!

Summer is here!

Sumblackboard-2192605_1920mer is here and the kids are out of school. Maybe you can sleep in a little more, and dinner is certainly easier to make—just throw some steaks on the grill and open that container of potato salad you bought yesterday at the deli.

You would think that with the arrival of summer you would have more time to write. Right? The days are longer making it easier to stay up at night; the kids don’t have activities they need to be driven to every afternoon. Maybe the workload at your job is a little lighter.

This all sounds good in theory, but the reality is, summer takes up a lot of time. Things don’t change much if you still need to get the kids to daycare or summer day camp, and your evenings are just as packed as they used to be with getting everyone home, dinner, bath, and bedtime. If things in your day-to-day routine haven’t changed, and you still want to do summertime fun stuff—going to the pool, the lake, the cabin, the beach, the parties at the park, the parades around the 4th of July—your weekends are even busier than they were before. Never mind fitting in family vacations.

So what does this do to your writing? My kids have only been out of school for one day, and already my writing schedule is out of whack. Did I get anything done their first day off? Nope. Would I have?  Yep.

It’s important during these next three months to guard your writing time. If you used to be able to write one or two hours a day, try to keep that going. It’s easy to let the time go by taking the kids to the park or sitting on the porch with the neighbors sipping daiquiris while the kids play in the water sprinkler.

My daughter is asking to go to the zoo, have playdates, have a movie night with me. And I absolutely want do those things with her. For sure! She’s eleven, and soon she won’t want to spend any time with me. But you know what else I want to do this summer? I want to publish Summer Secrets. I want to finalize edits in Running to Love (not the title anymore, but still) and get that ready for publication (formatting, book cover and writing the blurb) this fall. I want to keep writing this blog and figure out the mysterious newsletter thing everyone says authors need to have. I want to keep writing my 3rd Tower City Romance book. I need to edit the second one. No, I’m not going to be able to fit all that into the summer, but I’m not going to fit any of it into these next three months if I allow them to slide by in a haze of bug spray and suntan lotion.

I think of writing as my (second) job—I have a publication schedule I want to stick to. I don’t want to take a three-month vacation from writing.

So, it’s best for me to remember that when I’m tempted to stay up until 2 am and sleep until noon. I’ll remember that when my daughter wants to watch Moana for the second time that day.

Time alone is good for kids, and it’s good for me, too.

Only, I’m not alone—I’m with my characters, and it’s a nice place to be on a sunny summer afternoon.


Photo credits: