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How to make your book’s setting come alive

Ever read a novel that you were really into and then suddenly hit a dry patch of description that made you start to nod off? I have. If the story is really good, I might put up with it and skim over those parts. But if the story isn’t stellar, the author is in grave danger of losing me.

I used one of author and writing teacher James Scott Bell’s tips when I began writing my memoir. Though I grew up in the small town featured in my memoir, I visited the area again once I started writing the story, snapping pictures and traipsing through back roads.

Through research and immersing myself in the location, I discovered interesting facts about our town that I didn’t know growing up. It was helpful to go back, because as an adult and a writer, I have a different perspective.

Bell has produced a short video on how to make your setting and writing come alive. He gives tips for turning your setting into a character.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter four of my memoir, Runner Between Worlds:

“The Kitsap Peninsula lies within a womb. To our north, stretches the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands. To our east, flows Puget Sound with Seattle’s shipping lanes connecting us to the outside world. To the south and west, meanders Hood Canal with two hundred miles of shoreline and the world’s third largest floating bridge. Within this womb lies a community shaped like a heart—not a perfect valentine heart, but a real heart—lopsided, fat, ugly, pulsing with life, sometimes erratic and wild. This is the place of my childhood. Of my father’s childhood. Of his father’s childhood. The place my ancestors emigrated to from Norway. The place I returned to long after I’d moved away, vowing never to set foot on its hard soil again. Local Indians had named this heart-shaped land Lemolo (Lee-MOH-lo)—a Chinook word meaning wild and untamed.”

Growing up, I never knew the meaning of our town’s name—wild and untamed—which turned out to be perfect for my memoir’s theme.

For more writing tips by Bell check out his numerous books, including Writing Fiction for All You’re Worthand The Art of War for Writers.

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