Tag: Settings

#Amwriting October 12: Setting at Home and Work

You should have already chosen your overall setting for your NaNoWriMo novel. Now let’s plan the specifics of where your protagonist lives and works.

Once again, the work you need to do for your setting will depend on your genre, but here are some general suggestions.

Where does your main character call home?

Where does your main character sleep and eat? Do they live in a home, apartment, spaceship, or are they homeless? What does where they live say about your character?

If you are writing speculative fiction, historical fiction, or fantasy, it is time to do some serious world building. It is possible to use some of the techniques for developing a contemporary setting to help you create your otherworldly one.

Ask some questions.

  • What kind of architecture is appropriate for the time and place?
  • What sort of building materials are used?
  • When were the homes built?

Research contemporary places to live.

  1. Visit real estate websites. These days you can take a virtual tour of homes anywhere in the world. Pick some locations in the area you’ve chosen as a setting and see where your main character should live.
  2.  Take screenshots or download images to record the look of the home.
  3. If there’s one available, download a blueprint. Otherwise, draw your own rough house plan to keep on file. You don’t want your bathroom to be upstairs in one chapter and downstairs in the next.

This is a public domain floor plan of an historic house.

Have fun with this part. Add furniture and amenities. You can even decide your character’s decor, down to the art on the wall, the style of coffee maker, and color of the fridge.

Where does your main character work?

Your characters will likely spend more time at work than at home. Plan the spaces accordingly, using some of the same tools as above. For example, if your character works in a police station, use Google Maps to see what the police stations in that setting look like.

Other tips:

Write down details you love from places you visit. Love the brushed metal door at the library? Take a photo with your phone and write down how the sound it makes  when it closes.  Does the mid-century modern house in the neighborhood catch your eye? Convert it into the office where your character works and add your favorite landscaping.

My main character has a service job that takes her into other people’s homes as well as businesses. I will need to nail down a few of the spaces she visits regularly.

Other places your character visits.

Do your characters have hobbies? Run regularly in the park? Meet (pre-Covid) on Wednesday nights at the library or local community center?

Start a running list of these places and what the spaces look like. You might even start a map of the town or city where your main character lives, marking the places she visits most often.


You likely won’t use all or even many of the details you develop, but this preparation will come in handy when you begin to write scenes.

How is your setting planning going? Do you have any tips?


Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 3: Exploring Your Setting

The next step in our series about preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to consider your setting.


Why work on setting so early?

Some of you may be wondering why you should tackle setting so early in preparation. Isn’t it simply wallpaper behind the story?

Setting is a vital part of a novel. A good, concrete setting grounds the reader and can be a key element in driving the story. By evoking memories and feelings, it can influence the mood (think Hawaii versus Alcatraz.) You need to orient your readers to place and time right in the beginning of the book.

If the setting is from another era or a different world, such as for speculative fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction,  it will be critical to spend time worldbuilding before you put the first word on the page.



Start with brainstorming. Don’t forget to include time as well as place. Is the story going to be contemporary, historical or take place in the future? What year will your story be set in? How long does it last? Is all the action finished in 24 hours or 24 years? If your story idea feels like it is jelled, jot down a rough timeline.

Do you want to have your characters stay in one place or travel widely?  How are your characters going to react to the place? Do they love it or can’t wait to get away? How can the physical location add to the story? Can they do their job in that location?

Think about places you’ve lived, visited, or want to visit and jot them down. You are going to be living with the setting you choose for a long time if you write a novel, so pick one that you can be passionate about. It can help to choose a familiar time and place because you already know how it looks, smells, and sounds, but in reality, anything goes.


For contemporary novels, once you have an idea of place(s), investigate them. Look at maps and search the internet. Ideally, you should visit the location(s), but that isn’t as easy as it once was. For specific suggestions, see my previous post, Seven Awesome Internet Tools for Writing Realistic Settings.

If you are thinking of historical fiction, Anne R. Allen has tips for historical writers that will help get you started (thanks Shan).

Science fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy can be more challenging. A resource that can help with worldbuilding is Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook (Revised and Expanded): The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction*. I recommend it not so much for the text — although it can give you some useful tips — but more for the incredibly imaginative illustrations that will be sure to jump start your creativity. See the cover, for example.

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

If you a creating your own world, get familiar with some of the random place name generators. Mithril Mages has a bunch of name generators, including a Natural Terrain Feature Name GeneratorMuddles also has random name and place generators.

Tip:  Be sure to save the information you uncover. Make a list of links you visit, take screenshots of locations, save articles either as PDF or print or both.  You can save your research notes in a folder, in Scrivener,  or if you are going to use a three-ring binder, now is the time to begin organizing it. Start a tab for “setting.”

Write a Description

Before you finish for the day, write a brief description of your setting.

If you are stuck, try this helpful PDF mind map template for a descriptive essay about place from EslFlow.

What setting(s) did you choose?


I wish my novel could be set here, but it wouldn’t fit the story.

Tomorrow: The Antagonist – What or whom your protagonist is struggling with.


Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

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