Traveling to New Places Through Setting

“Traveling to New Places Through Setting” comes to JPC Allen Writes from a new author to my site, Judith McNees. Judith uses her own backyard as the setting for her novels and describes her approach to transport readers there. Welcome, Judith!

One of my favorite parts about reading and writing fiction is getting to experience the beauty of nature through the written word. When I began plotting my first series, I had abundant experiences with which to choose a setting. I knew I wanted to take my readers somewhere beautiful. Fortunately, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Tranquil Shores, Michigan, is a fictional town, but the descriptions of nature throughout the series are primarily drawn from my own experiences while living in Michigan my entire life.

With five of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, which create about 3,200 miles of coastline, over three hundred waterfalls, about five hundred islands, six state forests, four seasons, and more, Michigan has an overwhelming amount of nature to write about.

Part of writing nature is allowing readers to experience the different kinds of weather of each season. For example, my debut novel, A Heart to Cherish, takes place over summer. One scene from that novel describes the heat and humidity of July in vivid detail. If you’ve ever stepped outside your home and experienced humidity that felt like a solid wall, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I also described the beauty of a Lake Michigan sunrise, the scent of water, sand, and dune grass, and even the breeze carrying the hum of crickets as fireflies blink through flowers and trees during twilight.

In book two of the series, A Heart to Trust, the story picks up in late fall and transitions to winter as the story goes on. My readers experience the cold winds of late fall, the enchantment of the first snow flurries of the season, and the beauty of the first blanket of snow accumulation. Here, when it gets cold enough, we can “see” our breath, and any exposed skin, such as on cheeks and noses, turns red.

I’ve found that engaging as many of the senses as possible makes the setting come alive for readers. They may never come to Michigan, but through my stories, they can experience what it’s like to stroll along Lake Michigan or take a horseback ride through the snow. When you’re in nature, there are always smells, such as the scent of drying leaves in autumn or the earthy smell that comes just after rainfall. There are sounds like the wind sighing through the trees, waves gently crashing along the shore of Lake Michigan, or feet crunching through newly fallen snow. You can feel the heat of the sun or the cold chill of wind whipping through your hair.

I’ve even used beautiful landmarks to acquaint my readers with different feelings my characters might experience. For example, one of my characters describes the feeling of infatuation as similar to standing at the top of a fifty-foot waterfall and looking over. Another character describes the experience of falling in love as similar to standing atop Castle Rock in early spring and watching the large chunks of ice floating along the shore of Lake Superior. Breathtaking but potentially deadly.

Little details like these bring our readers to places they’ve never been to experience the beauty and wonder for themselves. It is always a joy to have readers from Michigan tell other readers that the descriptions of my lovely home state are spot on. If a reader has been bit by the travel bug as I have, it’s one great way to travel without leaving home!

For more guest posts, click here.


Can two broken hearts learn to trust each other…and God?

Grace Morgan has a closely guarded secret. One that also makes her good at guarding her heart. After all, she has what she needs to be content. She won’t make the mistake of falling for another man at work…until the hunky new guy she’s trying not to notice moves in across the hall.

Tyler Danby has a secret, too. Left by his wife, who takes away everything he cares about, he’s nursing his wounds and starting over. When he strikes up a friendship with his quirky neighbor, he wonders whether God might be giving him a second chance at love.

Secrets have a way of coming out. And broken trust is hard to restore.


Contemporary Christian romance author Judith McNees lives in southwestern Michigan with her husband and four of their seven children, along with their three dogs. Her family loves to travel together, but she still believes that her home state is one of the most beautiful states there is. She is a proud stay-at-home mom, stepmom, foster mom, adoptive mom, and grandma, which gives her plenty of fodder for her writing. She holds a B.A. in English from Western Michigan University and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebookInstagramGoodreads, and Amazon.

Listen to My Guest Podcast!

Very pleased to provide the links to my latest guest spot on a podcast. Books on the Ridge is the podcast created by my publisher, Mt. Zion Ridge Press. If you’re looking for Christian fiction that’s different from what big, traditional publishers provide, this is the press to explore and there’s no better way to learn about their books than from the authors themselves.

I talk about my previous Rae Riley mysteries and my current WIP, and you’ll learn about such writing secrets as my favorite tea and whether I have certain writing rituals. There’s also a special code for $1 off my books until Sept. 30. Please let me know what you enjoy about the podcast.

Listen to both parts of my interview here:

Prompt for a Nature Scene

Is this a picture you’d like to dive into and bring to life for readers? I would, which is why I chose it as a prompt for a nature scene. Using the technique I described last week, how would you write a scene in this natural setting, although you haven’t been here?

Here’s what I imagine:

  • Light from the full moon gilding everything with silver, making it appear distinct but weird
  • Although on the sea, no wind, which is unusual
  • Rough sand and/or rocks
  • The smell of salt, dampness
  • Taste salt?
  • Without wind, high humidity?

Now here’s my description.

Sand scraped my barefoot as I scurried over the boulders that let to the shore. The full moon allowed me to see far in any direction, but I couldn’t trust the silver light. Its magical glow let me to spot objects but not really see them.

I turned in a complete circle. I was alone. Not a breath of wind stirred the fronds of the palm tree. Humidity settled on me like a second skin. 

Turning again, I gasped, the thick air nearly choking me.

A figure was walking toward me, too far away for me to see more than a silver-edged silhouette.

Had he really come?

For more prompts for a nature scene, click here.

Please write your inspiration in the comments.

Rivers as Writing Inspiration

For the past sixteen years, we have lived across a road from a river and a creek that flows into it. Although I haven’t used rivers as writing inspiration in my mystery series yet, rivers provide so much potential as symbols and plot points that they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Crossing Rivers

Crossing rivers throughout history and literature is a sure sign of an irrevocable decision or event–Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the Israelites crossing the Jordan, the dead in Greek mythology crossing the River Styx. Once the river is crossed, there is no going back. (Fortunately, that hasn’t been the fate of my family. We cross back and forth all the time, but we’re not a future dictator, ancient Hebrews, or mythological characters.)

If a character is trying to leave the past behind, crossing a river can be sign of not looking back. Or the opposite can be true. A character crosses a river as a symbol of going to confront something from her past.

A river can also be a symbol of an obstacle or barrier in the character’s life. When he crosses it, it means he can now conquer the situation.

Flowing Rivers

The flow of our river during different seasons brings all kinds of change with it. In the winter, when there’s a thaw, the river can rise many feet. In the summer, when it’s low, we never know what we might find. These changes can symbolize changes in the main character’s life. A suddenly high river or flooding river can symbolize danger or an overwhelming emotion. A low river can show that a character’s life is drying up, without vitality.

I always find time spent on the river and creek, away from the routine demands of living, refreshing to my soul. So the river can be a refuge. When it isn’t flooding.

Rivers in Mysteries

A river is a very handy natural feature in mysteries. An unusually low river can reveal the body of a long-lost person. A fast river can sweep away evidence. In my current WIP, the second novel in my mystery series, I’m planning on using a flooding river as an obstacle to a rescue. But as I write, that may change.

Like a river.

To learn more about writing about nature, click here.

What have been your experiences with rivers? How have they shaped your writing?

Close Your Eyes to Nature

If you want a nature scene to come to life for your readers, you may have to close your eyes to nature so you can tune into your other senses. I used this idea as a prompt two years ago and thought it’d be valuable to repost. If you can, visit the natural location where you want to set your scene. Then close your eyes. What do your other four senses tell you?

I sat in the woods behind our house one morning. Below are my impressions.

  • Insects droning, maybe cicadas
  • Murmur and swoosh of traffic
  • Wet feet from dewy grass
  • Bird call like a squeaky toy
  • Drop of water on my hair
  • Touch of falling leaves
  • Rough, warty bark
  • Scent of dampness
  • Almost without me thinking, feet sensing contour of ground and adapting.
  • Variety of bird calls and chirps

Now I can incorporate these senses into a scene, depending on what kind of mood I want to create.


If my feet got any wetter, I’d sprout webbing between my toes. Water dropped onto my hair from the low branches and dampness overwhelmed any other scent. Could you drown on dry land? It seemed possible this morning.


The cicadas hummed in their hidden homes as I strolled in the green shade of the morning woods. Bird calls bounced among the trees. The murmur of traffic wasn’t even a distraction, blending with the cicadas so well that it faded from notice.


Leaves crunched under my feet, and I froze. Had anyone heard me? The cicadas droned, uninterrupted. A drop of water plopped onto the top of my head. My hand groped for support and found it on the warty bark of a slender tree. Catching my breath in my throat, I took another step, my tennis shoes soaked from the drenched ground cover of dead tree debris.

For more posts on writing about nature, click here.

Sit in some natural spot and close your eyes to nature. What do you discover?

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