Delving into Memories and Imagination

Bettie Boswell is back to discuss settings with us, delving into memories and imagination. Not only does she have an author’s understanding of setting, but she brings another perspective to it because she’s also an illustrator of children’s books. Her first picture book launches May 1. Check out the details below!

Thank you for this opportunity to drop in and share some tips about using setting in fiction. In recent writing adventures, I’ve used two very different approaches recently when it came to developing setting. One came from childhood memories and the other from imagination.

In writing a recent split-time novel, Hoping for Treasure,(July 2023, Mt. Zion Ridge Press) I used the memories I had of my grandmother’s house for one of the homes in the story. I spent several summers in my grandparent’s large Victorian house when my mother returned to full time work and my widowed grandmother wanted to stay in her home. My staying there solved problems for both those precious women. I wasn’t home alone all summer and neither was Grandmother. 

I must admit, my happy memories turned the place into a grander home than it actually was. However, in writing my book, those same recollections helped me map out the structure of the home without having to take the time to create a floor plan for the interior of the building. I picked out the perfect tiny room for my heroine to room in. Since she was part of the paid help, she had the smallest room instead of a bigger one where paying boarders resided. That room was mine during summer visits. Grandmother’s stories of renting out rooms during World War II times added to the setting and some of the types of characters. Several scenes in my novel take place on the large porch that wrapped around two sides of the house. The musty basement that scared me as a child inspired the cellar where an important part of the story takes place.

The huge desk that plays an important connection in both of the split-times, came from my childhood memories of writing at my grandfather’s work desk, using a typewriter that sat in a hidden compartment. When I wanted to use the machine, I simply had to push on the middle section of the desktop and the hidden compartment would open and lift. 

Several places in the little town were inspired by actual businesses in the area where my grandmother lived. As a preteen, I enjoyed the freedom to walk to a corner market or to downtown for a movie and visit to the dime store. I heard stories from my grandmother about a factory in her town that produced blasting powder for the war. Memories of Grandmother’s surroundings helped me with mapping out my fictional setting. If you are writing your own story, you may find it helpful to create maps of your fictional town and floor plans for the homes used. I’ve used a real town’s map in other stories for a basic layout for my made-up places.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes it is fun and freeing to just use your imagination. Fiction writing is, after all, created from imagination. So is the artistic part of illustrating in creating children’s picturebooks. For children’s writing, descriptions of the setting are mostly left up to the illustrator. Looking at each scene from different perspectives, up close, far away, and varying points of view allows the artist to show the story’s world from a movie-like view. In fact, both picturebooks and movies use storyboards as part of the creation process. 

In my first effort as both author and illustrator, I had the freedom to create a world for my characters through pictures. In the picturebook, Lucy and Thunder (Mt. Zion Ridge Press, May 1, 2023) the characters find themselves on a chase from outside, to a cave, to several different rooms in a house. Very few words mention where the action takes place. Instead, the drawings show the setting to the reader. Sometimes there is no illustrated setting, only an intense interaction between the characters, drawn in a white space that takes precedence over the backdrop, but the action moves the tale along. Author’s for picturebooks are often reminded to leave room for the artist to tell their own part of the story through interpreting the words or setting, and even illustrating a bonus story for a non-speaking side character. 

Whether you are using memories or imagination, setting can play a vital role in creating the mood for a story. The backdrop to a book, whether illustrated or told through descriptive words, can say a lot about your character’s personality, interests, family situation, or social condition. As you write, use the setting to enhance, but not overpower you main character’s adventure. 

Happy story making!

To read Bettie’s other guest blogs with their great writing advice, click here.




Author Bettie Boswell

Bettie Boswell has always loved to read and write. That interest helped her create musicals for both church and school and eventually she decided to write and illustrate stories to share with the world. Her writing interests extend from children’s to adult and from fiction to non-fiction. Free to Love is a prequel to her first novel, On Cue. Connect with Bettie on FacebookTwitter, or her website.

What Story Could You Write about this Setting?

I took this photo on a hike this year. Although I know what the structures were used for, there’s something fantastic about them. If you don’t know what they are, what story could you write about this setting? If you do know, let your imagination wander and come up with a story that gives a different purpose to the structures or works with what they really are into a story.

I think they look like abandoned pyramids like the kind the Mayans and Aztecs made. What if hundreds of years before Europeans came to America, a huge Aztec invasion force slowly worked its way north, overwhelming and subjugating the native people, building their pyramids along the way. The various tribes, although they didn’t have the Aztecs’ technology, decided to band together to repel the invaders and regain their freedom. Now I’ve got the outline for an epic.

Now it’s your turn. What are these structures and how could they inspire a story? Next week, I’ll tell you what they are and where I took the photo.

For more writing prompts about setting, click here.

Get Inspiration from Walking a Setting

I’m reposting this post on how to get inspiration from walking a setting because I’m within smelling distance of the end of my latest WIP novel, working title A Storm in Summer. I hope you enjoy this repost and are inspired to tie on your walking shoes and visit settings you want to include your writing.

Although the internet provides myriad opportunities to virtually visit sites around the world, I still find nothing helps me understand a setting better than walking through it. Whenever you can walk your settings.

In June of 2021, my husband, kids, and I explored the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, the third oldest community in the state. We’d been to the town many times before, but we’d never stopped in its cemetery. It’s so old that instead of being called a cemetery, it’s the Old Burying Ground. With the sky turning black as a storm approached, we ventured into the dim graveyard, the thick tangle of live oak branches pressing in around us, adding a ton of atmosphere. No virtual tour or book could have conveyed the experience we had that day.

Five Benefits of Walking Your Setting

  • Walking slows me down. Even if I’m looking for a setting for a car chase, I still want to walk it. Walking helps me sees details I wouldn’t notice if I drove by or looked at photos. It also slows down my brain, allowing me to appreciate my surroundings.
  • Walking allows me to use all five senses. The photos above a can’t convey the hush of the cemetery, which contrasted with the strengthening winds, or the crackle of dead leaves underfoot, or the smooth surface of the marble headstones.
  • Walking allows me to absorb the atmosphere. That probably sounds artsy, but I think creative people know what I mean. Most locations give you a certain feeling. A doctor’s office might give me an uneasy feeling, and I can’t figure out why until I realize it has some similarity to an office where I had an unpleasant experience. It helps my writing if I give my setting a mood as well as a physical description. Experiencing the atmosphere of places in reality enormously aids my ability to create moods for my settings.
  • Walking gives me confidence when writing. Because I’ve actually visited the places I’m writing about, I can write with confidence. If someone thinks it’s unbelievable that a character can’t get cell reception to call for help in an Ohio state park, I know he’s mistaken because because I’ve been to Ohio state parks that don’t have reception.
  • Walking is cheap. If it’s difficult for you to travel for research, walking settings where you live or ones you visit regularly saves you both time and money. When I had to find a town outside of Ohio in which my main character Rae finished high school, I picked the coast of North Carolina because we have vacationed there. 

If you write science fiction or fantasy or historical fiction, try to find some equivalent in the current, real world. If your space opera occurs on a desert planet, arrange a visit to a desert. If your historical romance takes place in Victorian London, and you live nowhere close to Great Britain, find a city that still has Victorian architecture. Or a living museum where guides dress and act like people from the period. If the princess-in-disguise from your fantasy hides out in a stable, volunteer to work in one.

For more tips on writing about settings, click here.

Do you walk your settings? How has walking inspired your writing?

Tune into a Setting

My prompt today is to encourage you to visit a real-world setting and write your impressions. This is what I mean by tune into a setting. Be still and gather impressions through the five senses. Don’t think too much about them. Just dot down what first comes to your mind as you watch, listen, feel, smell, and possibly taste.

In the photo, I’m sitting in the small fenced area behind our house. Beyond me is the rest of our property. My impression are:

  • Running water in the pond
  • Blinding, white light
  • Bird chips, calls, songs
  • Barely a breeze
  • Soft cat fur
  • Yellow dandelions
  • Buzz or whine of chain saw
  • Fish swim in cloudy pond
  • Perfect temperature
  • Flitting bee among flowers
  • Blue dots of flowers
  • Woodpecker

Now I can work these impressions into a story. I don’t have to include them all, and I can add ones that suit the story.

“Walking barefoot across the bricks of the patio already warmed by the white morning light, I crossed the yard to the couch by our pond. The koi and goldfish played tag in the cloudy water. I lowered myself onto the couch with my mug of tea as Friskies rubbed my leg. I scratched him under an ear. Dandelions provided bursts of sunshine among the rejuvenated spring grass. A woodpecker hammered out a cadence.

“I took a long sip of tea. So peaceful, so—

“A chain saw whined to life, overpowering the woodpecker and just about any other round around me.

“I dropped my mug on the small table next to me, tea sloshing out of it.

“Not again.”

For more prompts for writing a setting, click here.

I’d love to read in the comments your impressions when you tune into a setting.

Using Spring Weather in a Setting

My blog is following “The Journey of a Book” this year, and you can’t write a book without examining setting. Besides the buildings and landscapes our stories takes place in, we writers also have to consider the climate and the weather. I live in Ohio, which is also the setting of my mystery series. It’s a temperate climate, making spring unpredictable. That quality gives my imagination a whole lot of scope for using spring weather in a setting.

Spring Reflects a Characters

One of my favorite descriptions for a character appears in the short story “Naboth’s Vineyard” by Melville Davisson Post. 

Describing a young woman “.. with an April nature of storm and sun.”

I can create a character with the extreme and unpredictable swings in temperament and have that temperament underscored by unpredictable and extreme weather. When he’s in a good mood, the sky is blue with puffy white clouds. When’s he’s sad, the weather’s a steady drizzle. When he’s angry, a spring storm pops up.

A character with a hair-trigger temper is like a sudden spring storm. I once described a character with a temper like a tornado. “You never know where it will land and how much damage it will do.”

Spring Reflects Plot

I’m working on this right now with my latest WIP A Storm in Summer (I know the title says summer, but since the story takes place in early and mid-June, it’s technically spring). I want the weather to grow more ominous throughout the story until the storm hits at the climax.

You can use the sudden changes in spring weather to mimic sudden plots twists. Or the emotional arc of a character. A character struggling with a problem at the beginning of the story could be living through unpleasant weather. And then as she succeeds in solving her problem, the weather improves.

Spring is Plot

The changeable weather is a perfect way to create believable plots twists. A gang of crooks pulls off a daring robbery. As they make their getaway, a storm ruins their escape route. What do they do? The amateur sleuth figures out who the killer is when they are alone in a remote location. The killer realizes the sleuth is onto her. She tries to kill the sleuth, but he takes off. A storm or flash flood complicates the sleuth’s escape and the killer’s pursuit. What do they do?

A powerful storm and flash flooding figure into my climax in A Storm in Summer.

What is spring weather like where you live? How would you use spring weather as writing inspiration?

Powered by

Up ↑