12 Days of Planning a Novel: Setting as a Character

Up next in my 12 days of planning a novel series is setting. It's easy to forget to describe where things are happening. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help describe setting.

Today I’m going to cover another tip to help beef up your outline. I know by this point, you are probably itching to get writing your novel, but unless you are a pantser, which I don’t think you would be reading this post if you are, you’ll appreciate having a very detailed outline once you start writing.

When I was querying agents and publishers for my novel Murder Audit, I got one response that, at the time, I thought was a bit harsh. The agent said my writing was flat. I was horrified and annoyed that she dared to say such a thing. Once I got over the initial sting, I realized she was right and I went on to make edits accordingly.

Last month I read the book Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and it opened my eyes to what that agent was getting at when she said my writing was flat. I often get so wrapped up in my characters that I miss the necessary exposition that lets the reader get a better sense of where my scenes are taking place. The best tip I got from Maass’s book was to make your setting a character.

Making your setting a character is also a great thing to think about when you are working on your novel outline, because you can take some time to make notes about your various scenes and what you want your readers to know about their setting.

You can start thinking of your setting as a character by asking yourself the following questions.

What mood are you trying to portray?

I love how novelists and film producers use the weather to add a special quality to their scenes. Have you ever noticed how it’s often dark and maybe even raining when suspenseful scenes are taking place.

Movies have the advantage of being able to use music to help heighten the mood. In writing, we need to make sure our words describe the setting in a way that helps create the right mood for whatever is going on in our plot.

Stuck on your novel outline? Consider your setting as a character to add more detail. Here are three questions you can ask when it comes to describing your setting.

Is time of day or day of the week important?

Oftentimes certain scenes are best carried out at a certain time of the day, so remember to let you readers know this. Rather than simply saying, “It was lunch time,” you could describe the setting by saying it was a hot day and the sun was directly overhead.

If it wasn’t a hot day, what else can you think of that would let the reader know it was noon? Of course, this kind of description only makes sense if it is important to your story.

How does your setting help your characters?

This is a question you can really have some fun with. Maybe your character is trying to break into a house, but they arrived empty handed. When describing the setting, you’re going to want to make sure there’s a rock or a brick (or something else) nearby that they can use to get into that house.

There are many other ways to think of the setting of your novel as a character. The point is, don’t forget about your setting. Go through your outline and note any places where you’re going to need to treat your setting like a character by providing some descriptive details that add to your plot.

Once you’re done thinking about the setting, you’re ready to move on to hooks and cliffhangers which I will be discussing in the next post.

Here’s where you can find previous posts in the 12 Days of Planning a Novel series:

What Will You Write?

Research, Research, Research

Character Development

Story vs. Plot

Starting an Outline

Creating Conflict

Stories as Inspiration