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!
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 Facebook, Twitter, or her website.