Friday, January 31

Serialization: Pros And Cons

Serialization: Pros And Cons

Have you ever considered writing a serialized novel?

Over the past few days I've read two terrific articles on the subject of writing and publishing serials, the pros and cons. They are:

"How I sold The Plague of Days, PART I" by Robert Chazz Chute. (Parts II and III are excellent as well.)

As some of you may remember, I've played with the idea of writing a serial (I've put a collection of links at the end of this article) wondering if it might help a writer become discovered, especially if they took advantage of Amazon's Select publishing program.

Well. If you've ever wondered about the feasability--or profitability--of writing and publishing a serialized novel, I recommend Chute's articles. He gives a well thought out, well explained, list of pros and cons in addition to throwing in many helpful tips.

(The following list contains insights from both articles.)

Publishing Strategy For Serialized Novels

- Chute advises writers to publish the entire season of episodes and then release a new episode every week.

- Chute kept each episode to between 15,000 and 25,000 words.

- Chute sold each episode for 99 cents.

- Chute advises writers to make it cheaper to buy the entire season of episodes than to buy each episode for 99 cents. (Chute charges $3.99 for one season.)

- End each episode on a cliffhanger. This way not only will readers be motivated to buy the next installment, they will be motivated to save money by purchasing the season bundle for $3.99 (or whatever you decide to charge).

Benefits Of This Strategy

- Since you are releasing different episode each week your volumes will have a better than average chance of being featured on Amazon's the 'also-bought' lists.

Drawbacks Of The Strategy

- Some readers hate serials. And, yes, I do mean hate. Even if they read and enjoy a serial they won't feel it was a good value for their money and will rate the book accordingly.

- You make less selling every episode for 99 cents than you do off the bundle. For example, if a reader bought 5 episodes for 99 cents she would have spent $4.95 from which you would make 35% or $1.73. On the other hand, if she had spent $3.99 on the season bundle you would make 70% or $2.79. 

-Your Amazon Sales Page can looked cluttered after you've released a few season's worth of episodes.

The Bottom Line

Chute feels that serialization helped get his series--and him--discovered. Even though Chute lost some money on the 99 cent episodes, he feels that the exposure was worth it.

Tips And Tricks

- To help you get to know your readership and, possibly, increase reader involvement, have each season contain a secret. The first three people to guess the secret get a character named after them next season.

- An amazing cover sells books. Chute recommends his cover artist Kit Foster over at

- Think about using BookBub for marketing. You might also take a look at The Fussy Librarian. Here's an article that compares the merits of various marketing sites: BookBub vs BookGorilla vs The Fussy Librarian – Which is the best ebook marketing service?

- Enroll your books in Amazon's Select program.

- Chute advises authors not to bother with expensive book videos, they aren't worth the investment. That said, if you want to experiment, can be an inexpensive way to do so.

- Chute has found that video book reviews are very effective in selling books.

- Master the art of the cliff-hanger. Kathy Owen writes:

"Doyle was master of the cliff-hanger.  He knew how to break up the segments to keep the readers hooked.  The first magazine installment, for example, ends with Watson’s sleep being disturbed by: 'the sob of a woman, the muffled, strangling gasp of one who is torn by uncontrollable sorrow.'  Other cliff-hangers involve a dead body, a stealthy stranger, and mysterious noises in the night."

General Writing Tip:

In order to avoid using huge information dumps to get in needed backstory, ones that involve long flashbacks or narrative passages "Doyle used different narrative voices: those of the client, a 17th century manuscript, Watson, and Holmes, who later relays his own account of the time when he and Watson are working the case separately."

Here's a video--it's really more of a podcast--I've put together based on the information in this article. It's basically just this article in audio form.

Other articles I've written on serialization:

Wednesday, January 29

The Goal of Writing

The Goal of Writing

What is the goal of writing?

I mean by this not only why do we, as individuals, write, I mean what is it we hope to do, to accomplish, by our writing.

From my reading, I would say that one of the most common answers is: to entertain.

And that makes sense. I think we've all had the experience of coming home from a hard day and wanting nothing more than to sit down and relax with a cup of steaming hot cocoa--or other beverage--and a book guaranteed to take your mind off the cares and troubles of the day.

That said, I think it might matter what kind of story you're writing. For instance, someone who writes a literary story might be more interested in focusing on a particular aspect of the human condition than on entertaining their readers. I think all writers care about entertaining readers, it's just a matter of emphasis.

So, tentatively, let's say that the goal of genre fiction (perhaps mainstream too, but certainly genre) is to entertain. But let's see if we can't narrow it down a bit more.

First, though, let's take a look at what a story is at it's most fundamental level.

Story: A Definition

John Truby in "The Anatomy of Story" gives the following definition:

"A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why."

Truby views a story as essentially interactive, something that passes from a storyteller to one or more listeners.

There are two parts to this:

1. Emotional knowledge: reliving the life

Truby writes:

"Good storytelling lets the audience relive events in the present so they can understand the forces, choices, and emotions that led the character to do what he did. Stories are really giving the audience a form of knowledge--emotional knowledge--or what used to be known as wisdom, but they do it in a playful, entertaining way."

2. Figure out the puzzle: a verbal game

Truby calls stories verbal games. The storyteller constructs "a kind of puzzle about people" and asks the listener to figure it out.

There are two parts to this:

a. Give certain information about the characters to the audience.

b. Withhold certain information about the characters from the audience.

It is the interplay of (a) and (b) that keeps readers guessing up until the end.

Question: What do you think the goal of storytelling is? 

Photo credit: "♥ The Drongo Love ♥ Happy Valentine's Day ♥" by Vinoth Chandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 27

How To Write Killer Crime Stories

Here are seven excellent tips for writing killer crime stories from Luke Preston.

1. "Don’t be boring"

Like many great writing tips, this is true for any kind of writing. If readers get bored, they'll stop reading. LP's advice: 

"... write what excites you. You do that and that excitement will come across on the page and excite the reader."

2. "Grab the reader by the throat on the first page and don’t let go"

LP advises readers to "Start your story off like a shotgun blast in the middle of the night."

I love these kind of openings in both film and literature. Think of the opening to The Matrix. A tiny woman, Trinity, bests several police officers by using very cool, surreal, martial arts moves.

LP breaks this kind of roller coaster opening into five sub-types:

a. The Action Opening
- Hero is being menaced, either physically or emotionally.

b. The Flashback Opening
- Take a moment of drama from later on in the novel and place it at the beginning.

c. The First Day on the Job Opening
- Hero arrives in a new, stressful, setting. New job, new town, etc.

d. The Everyday Hero Opening
- Could be called the Red opening, from the movie of the same name. The hero is going about his routine when something happens to irrevocably change his life ... like groups of assassins trying to kill him.

e. Outside Action
- Something actiony happens that doesn't involve the hero.

3. There must be a crime

Makes sense, right? You're reading a crime novel so there has to be a crime. But don't make it just any crime. And this goes for murder mysteries as well. LP writes:

"Give your criminals unique and conflicting reasons to be criminals. The bad guy in a story never knows he’s the bad guy. In his story, he’s the good guy. Your protagonist is only as strong as the forces of antagonism they are up against. Give them something to go up against."

4. Don't write likeable characters

If you're like me, this point made you go, "Errr ... what?" I've always thought that, while one doesn't have to write a likeable character, it does help readers identify with him (or her).

LP disagrees. He writes:

"Nobody likes likable characters. They may think they do and they may believe they do, but they really don’t. What they like are interesting characters. Characters that make mistakes, characters that think fast and think badly, flawed characters [...]  Crime novels are littered with sons of bitches, wild men, dubious women and double crossing bastards.  Given the questionable nature of the characters that populate the pages of a crime novel, the question is how do you capture the hearts of the readers and keep them turning the page?"

Good question. LP's answer: Empathy.

Here's LP's advice on how to create empathy in the hearts of your readers:
a. Make the hero funny
b. Make the hero a victim
c. Show the hero in a dilemma
d. Show the hero being highly skilled
e. Show the hero being selfless 
Makes sense. Sherlock, from the TV show of the same name, often refers to himself as a high functioning sociopath. Generally speaking, sociopaths aren't likable. Sherlock--and, make no mistake, I love the character; Sherlock is hands down my favorite show right now--is a bit of an ass. But, somehow, the writers have made what is usually an irksome trait a part of his charm.

5. "Endings that slap you in the face"

LP writes:

"Great endings give the reader what they want but not in the way they expect it. [...] Think of the ending as a mini three-act structure with twists and turns, reversals, setbacks and new plans."

Good advice. You know how I know? Jim Butcher has said basically the same thing but in a different way. In writing, if a number of terrific writers agree on a certain point I think they're probably onto something.

LP goes on to say that once your main story arc is closed out, once the hero has killed the villain (or lost to the villain), the story is over. Show how the ending affected the other characters, how it affected the ordinary world of the hero, then end the story.

6. Shake things up

LP advises writers to "hit the street and start a fight." That is--and this is a point I was trying to get across when I wrote about setting--hook your characters, especially the hero, into the world.

Have your characters experience the story world's " disappointments and triumphs, anger and heartbreaks and put it all on the page."

7. What is your story about?

What is your story's theme?

This is something else I've written about lately and I couldn't agree more with what LP says here. Asking what a story's theme is, is equivalent to asking:

"What are you saying about the world with your story?"

What is your story saying about--not the story world--but the real world? What do you want to say?

For example, I think that the main theme of The Mummy was, as Evelyn said, "snivelling little cowards like you [Beni] always get their comeuppance." Or, put another way, cowards and liars always get theirs in the end.

Find something you want your story to say about the world in which you live and then say it--through your story.

Luke Preston can be found online over at Luke's latest book is Out of Exile.

Photo credit: "Untitled" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attributions 2.0.

Friday, January 24

The Secret To Succeeding As A Writer: Having A Criterion For Success

Today I read a typically wonderful article on Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence, by Maria Popova.

It's not just how long you practise, it's HOW you practise.

Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, writes:    

"The '10,000-hour rule'--that this level of practice holds the secret to great success in any field--has become sacrosanct gospel, echoed on websites and recited as litany in high-performance workshops. The problem: it’s only half true. If you are a duffer at golf, say, and make the same mistakes every time you try a certain swing or putt, 10,000 hours of practicing that error will not improve your game. You’ll still be a duffer, albeit an older one.

"No less an expert than Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the 10,000-hour rule of thumb, told me, 'You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.' [Emphasis mine]

"'You have to tweak the system by pushing,' he adds, 'allowing for more errors at first as you increase your limits.'"

Unsurprisingly, it isn't just quantity, it is also quality. It turns out that "the main predictor of success is deliberate practice--persistent training to which you give your full concentration rather than just your time, often guided by a skilled expert, coach, or mentor." 

I often envy Stephen King's children. I don't mean to take anything away from their deserved success, but what an advantage to have Stephen and Tabitha King reading your work, giving you notes. (Note, I'm not saying they wouldn't have become successful writers if left on their own; but I have to think that having skilled writing mentors helped to speed up the process.)

So, given this, what is a writer to do? Kidnap Stephen King and go all Misery on him? Fortunately, there are other ways.

1. Focused practise

Focus on improving a particular aspect of your craft. Goleman writes:

"Hours and hours of practice are necessary for great performance, but not sufficient. How experts in any domain pay attention while practicing makes a crucial difference. For instance, in his much-cited study of violinists--the one that showed the top tier had practiced more than 10,000 hours--Ericsson found the experts did so with full concentration on improving a particular aspect of their performance that a master teacher identified."


"... those of us who browse TV while working out will never reach the top ranks. Paying full attention seems to boost the mind’s processing speed, strengthen synaptic connections, and expand or create neural networks for what we are practicing."

Applying these insights to writing, what seems to be required is a) to pick a specific aspect of the craft of writing to improve and then b) to pay full attention to it.

Here are a couple of writing exercises I've come across for improving specific aspects of one's writing:

i. Develop a unique voice.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but one way to speed up the development of your unique voice is to attempt to mimic the work of other writers

Pick a short passage from the work of a writer you admire, read it, study it, then put it away and write the passage on your own. Your work should be in the same voice, in same setting, and include the same characters. Also, the characters should have the same goals and be forced to confront the same obstacles.

Try doing this once a day for three months.

ii. Do some improvisational writing.

Write a dialogue for six characters, switching to a new character every ten seconds. The goal is to make every voice unique. (see: How To Create Distinct Characters: An Exercise)

2. Feedback Loop

But practising one's craft with full attention is only part of it. Creatives need a way to receive feedback on their efforts. 

With writing this can be tricky. What constitutes a good story--or at least a story someone would pay money to read--can vary sharply from reader to reader.

There are two things here. First, one needs a goal. Then, second, one needs a way of measuring how close one comes to achieving the goal.

A Writer's Goal

As a writer, what is your goal? What are we trying to accomplish when we write a story? Here are a few possibilities:

A. The writer is satisfied with their work.

What is art? 

I believe that, at it's most fundamental, writing is art. In this sense there are no criteria beyond what the writer intends. If I sit down to write a story for myself (and only for myself), and I am satisfied with the story, then it is a success.

One of the problems with this goal is that, since we are social creatures, we tend to want others to read--and enjoy--our stories. This usually leads writers to ask: how can I write stories other people will like?

B. We write to entertain. We do this by evoking emotions in readers.

Here the criterion passes beyond me and my tastes to those of my readers. If I write a horror story and my readers are not horrified, I've done something wrong! If I write a tragedy and no one is saddened by it, my story has failed.

One of the problems with this goal is that it's difficult to measure since, generally speaking, I can't observe my readers' emotions.

C. We write to entertain. We do this by playing a verbal game with readers, by giving them a puzzle to solve. 

I love mystery stories. One of my favorite detectives is Agatha Christie's Poirot. Why? Because Christie set out verbal puzzles that were usually solvable with the information at hand.

This goal has the same drawback as (B): one can't directly observe whether a person is being entertained by the game. 

Yes, readers could write to an author and give them detailed feedback on wether the story engaged them; most folks, understandably, don't do this.

D. We write to impart information. 

You might think this applies primarily to non-fiction--and perhaps it does--but many works of fiction, especially those set in exotic locations, take as one of their goals to impart information about the world. 

Evaluating Performance

Okay, so, we have various goals, various criteria that to us as individuals would mean we succeeded. Maybe none of the ones I've mentioned apply to you and, if so, that's fine. Also, you can have one criteria or many, it's entirely up to you. 

I just wanted to get across the idea that, even if we don't have a crystal-clear idea what they are, every writer has goals just as every writer has an idea--no matter how vague--about what a good story is. 

But having a goal is of little use if we can't tell how close we are to achieving it.

i. Number of books sold

This criterion is the ultimate in terms of being external, objective and more-or-less easy to access. Smashwords, Amazon, Kobo, as well as pretty well every ebook retailer, lists how many books an author has sold. Higher is better. 


Of course this criterion has its problems. What, really, does it mean? If one of my books sells twice as much as another does that mean readers were twice as emotionally and intellectually engaged by it? Probably not. Certain genres sell more than others and the first book in a series will probably take more time to get off the ground than the third book is an already established series.

Also, often, the sales of one's current book reflect what people thought about your last book. 

In addition, a book can sell well based on a fabulous cover or blurb. Or the recommendations of other authors.

ii. Amount of money made

The amount of money a book makes over time is, all things being equal, a good indicator of whether readers found it entertaining.

That is, the amount of money a book makes relative to your other books. Just because you don't come close to Stephen King's numbers doesn't necessarily mean your story was any less engaging. It took a long time for King to be discovered.

Also, books are often priced differently and sometimes the first book in a series is sold for 99 cents or given away. As a result this book likely won't make as much money for the author as the other books in the series. However, this doesn't make the book any less valuable, just the opposite, since it is the first book in the series that 'hooks' readers and makes them want to continue reading. 

There are many other criteria for success or failure. Sometimes--often?--people write to express an ideology, or communicate an idea, or to urge a certain course of action.

Beta Readers

I imagine that some of you will say that beta readers can help an author gauge whether a story is both emotionally gripping and intellectually satisfying. Yes. Absolutely. 

Get as many eyes on your manuscript as you can, get as much feedback as you can. That said, keep in mind that there's often a big difference between readers and writers. Writers often look for different things than the average reader.

For example, the late Roger Ebert gave Wedding Crashers two out of four stars even though it went on to be a wildly successful movie at the box office. (That said, I loved Ebert's reviews, both for his opinions and his prose.)

I think the best predictor of how well a book will do is the responses of readers, people who love the genre it is written in. If you have some way of getting your work in front of average readers so they can give you feedback, that's awesome! 

3. Don't Overdo It

We've seen that it isn't just practise that's required, it is deliberate practise. We've seen that we need goals--an idea of what we want our writing to do--as well as a way, or ways, to gauge whether we are achieving those goals.

How much should we practise our craft?

Goleman holds that a skill can be overworked, tired out. Strained. He writes:

"... world-class champions--whether weight-lifters, pianists, or a dog-sled team--tend to limit arduous practice to about four hours a day."


In the end what criteria you adopt--what you take as constituting success or failure--is entirely up to you. The important thing is to:

- Know what your goals are and have some way of telling whether they've been met. 
- Engage in focused, deliberate, practice every day, working on areas you would like to improve, always keeping an eye on whether you are getting closer to your goal.
- Do all things in moderation.

I'm off to write!

Good writing.

Photo credit: "Golden girl" by Ernst Moeksis under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, January 23

Narrative Setting: Making Your Story World Reflect Your Hero's Journey

Narrative Setting: Making Your Story World Reflect Your Hero's Journey

I'm finishing my series on setting today! Yes! I'm excited. Finally I'm getting to the material I've wanted to talk about for ages: connecting the setting of a story up to, hooking it into, the arc of the hero's journey. (The other episodes can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Another way of saying this is: have the setting mirror the protagonist's arc--which is going to be the main arc of the story. (Here I'm talking about a story where, although there may be several main characters, there is one character whose quest sets the spine of the story.)

Here's how I'm going to approach this. First, we'll (very quickly) look at the progress of the hero from bondage to freedom; from (as Michael Hauge would say) living in his identity to living in his essence; from unconsciously living with a weakness that was destined to prevent him from realizing his true capacity, to finding the strength to conquer his weakness and (at least try to) live the life he really wants.

Not all stories go like that. Tragedies, for instance, often take the character from living a good, fulfilled, life and--because of the hero's tragic weakness, or because of the machinations of the gods or fate--his life, and the lives of those he loves, are destroyed. 

In what follows I'm going to focus on a typical story that more-or-less fits the hero's journey.

Truby's Seven Key Steps of Story Structure

I should have said this before, but most of this material, and all of the quotations, are from John Truby's excellent book, "The Anatomy of Story."

1. Weakness and need
2. Desire
3. Opponent
4. Plan
5. Battle
6. Self-revelation
7. New equilibrium

Creating The Story World Around The Protagonist

1. Weakness and need.

The protagonist has a (at least one) weakness, a need, something that is preventing him from realizing his true potential, preventing him from living the life that would make him truly happy.

Story world

Show a story world "that is a physical manifestation of the hero's weakness or fear." 

For example, Luke Skywalker grew up on a desert planet, one that was on the outskirts, away from anything Luke considered remotely interesting. His uncle kept promising he could leave the farm to go to the academy, but something always seem to come up, something it was his duty to attend to.

2. Desire.

The protagonist has a desire, something he wants more than anything else. 

- Perhaps (The Firm) he wants to escape the trailer park of his youth so he dreams of becoming a partner in a rich law firm.
- Perhaps (Pi) the protagonist wants to discover the number that is the name of God and created all things.
- Perhaps (Lord of the Rings) the protagonist wants to destroy the One Ring and so defeat the Big Bad.

This desire will form the 'spine' of the story. The idea is that everything--setting included--should relate to the protagonist and, most especially, to the protagonist's desire.

Story World

Your story world should express the hero's goal. For example, in The Firm, the hero (McDeere) begins his quest at university--Harvard Law School. The protagonist's desire is to never, ever, be poor again and his goal is to make partner in a wealthy law firm.

3. Opponent.

The antagonistic force opposes the protagonist in his quest to fulfil his desire. Note: Desires can be general, diffuse. A goal should be concrete enough that one could take a picture of it being achieved. For example:

Desire: I want to be rich.
- Become a partner at a prestigious law firm.
- Find the lost treasure of the Incas.
- Rob the bank on 1st and 3rd.

Also, the goal should be such that it can be achieved by either the protagonist or the antagonist, not by both. (Many times, both could fail to achieve it, but only one can succeed.)

Story World

Protagonist & Antagonist: 

- Their lairs, their living spaces, their domiciles, their homes--as well as their workplaces--should express their desires. For the antagonist, his physical domain should also represent "his power and ability to attack the hero's great weakness."

- Also, Truby holds that the "world of the opponent should also be an extreme version of the hero's world of slavery."

4. Plan.

The protagonist devises a plan to defeat the opposition and achieve his goal.

Story World: 

Apparent defeat or temporary freedom

Apparent defeat: All hope is lost. At this point all of the "forces defeating and enslaving the hero are literally pressing in on him." 

For example, Star Wars IV where Luke and company are in the garbage compacter.

5. Battle.

The protagonist battles the antagonistic force.

Story World

This is the climax of the story. The battle--or confrontation; it doesn't have to be physical--"should occur in the most confined place of the entire story." Why? Truby writes that this creates a "pressure cooker effect".

"Realistically, a dogfight would occur in open space where the pilots have room to maneuver. But Lucas understands that the best battle occurs in the tightest space possible."

6. Self-revelation. 

At some point the hero will suffer a devastating setback. It will seem to him, and to the audience, that his quest is over, that there's no way he can continue. 

Cue the self-revelation.

Generally there's a B-story (the A-story tracks the hero's quest for an external goal while the B-story tracks the hero's quest for an internal goal), and the answer/resolution of this B-story often provides the hero with the key to the A-story. It will give him an idea for how to overcome whatever opposition he is experiencing and, against all odds, achieve his goal. (Or not, it's up to you.)

Story World: Visit to death

The hero thinks he is going to die. "He should encounter his mortality in a place that represents the elements of decline, aging, and death."

I'm tempted to use Luke's imprisonment in the trash compactor again--but I won't. Countless movies have the hero visit a creepy old house (or other structure) with skeletons (Raiders of the Lost Ark), or take them down into the cellar, a dark and musty basement (the Paranormal Activity movies), and bring them close--even symbolically (e.g., a shrivelled rose)--to death.

7. New equilibrium. 

The hero has been transformed by his confrontation/experience with death. He goes back to the Ordinary World, the world before the adventure, but he's changed. At the very end of the story we see how the lessons the hero has learnt through his quest enable him to respond to the challenges of daily life in different ways. (Or not. A comedic story often ends with the hero learning nothing.)

Story World: Freedom or Slavery

Truby holds that the world "should represent in physical terms the final maturation or decline of the character."

Take the hero, the protagonist, back to their original world--the Ordinary World. Show how the journey has changed the hero.

Going back to Luke and Star Wars IV, there is a clear difference in what he's wearing. In the beginning he's in off-white, ordinary, clothes. Alone. 

At the end he is in a white uniform, in front of many people, standing with close friends, being honored for his contribution as a leader.

Look at where Luke is. When we first meet Luke he is outside in the desert, assisting his uncle as the man shops for droids. When we leave Luke at the end of his journey he is inside a rebel base, in a gleaming white room. Rather than assisting anyone, he is being honored as a leader.

Points to keep in mind when crafting your setting:

1. Identify the key visual oppositions.

These oppositions should be based on your character's values. (e.g., Star Wars IV, V, and VI all provide terrific examples of this.)

2. How is time expressed in the story world?

The Past

Truby writes: you set a story in the past to "show values dominant in the past that still hurt people today."

The Future

"You set a story in the future to give the audience another pair of glasses, to abstract the present in order to understand it better."

The Seasons

Each season can convey certain meanings to the audience about the hero and the world.


a. Change the seasons to reflect the inner states of your hero has he changes.
b. If you take your hero through all four seasons this can provide a nice way to compare and contrast the protagonist's start and end states.

Note: Think of ways you can use a reader's anticipation to surprise them.

For example, a person in shorts and t-shirt is unexceptional on a beach in July but quite exceptional walking to the store in December--if there's snow on the ground.

It's normal for many animals to give birth in the spring. Unconsciously (or consciously) we tend to associate the two. 

To shake things up, why not have someone give birth in the winter? This could work as a symbol (humans out of touch with nature) or it could increase conflict. 

For example, snowdrifts cling to the sides of an isolated cabin. Inside a woman gives birth. The lights flicker as a storm shakes the cabin, highlighting the woman's dwindling supply of firewood.

Or something. This is one way to use the setting--the story world--to introduce, or increase, conflict.

Holidays and Rituals

Truby writes: "A ritual is a philosophy that has been translated into a set of actions that are repeated at certain intervals."

Rituals are dramatic. Think of your last family get together, perhaps for Thanksgiving. Was it calm and relaxing or dramatic?

What do these rituals mean to the protagonist? How do they tie into the protagonist's desire? (Perhaps they don't.)

A Single Day

You can use a daily event/ritual (say, lunch) to track a few characters acting simultaneously.

That's it! This is the end of my series on setting, I hope you found something you could take away, something you can adapt to enrich your writing.

In any case, good writing!

Photo credit: "Walk Alone..." by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 20

Narrative Setting: How To Build A World

"You create a story world to express and manifest your characters, especially your hero." John Truby, The Anatomy of Story

John Truby, in The Anatomy of Story, writes: "creating a unique world for the story--and organically connecting it to the characters--is as essential to great storytelling as character, plot, theme, and dialogue."

When I read that passage I knew I couldn't close out my series on narrative setting without talking about how Truby constructs a story world, a narrative setting, one designed specifically for his characters. Truby talks the reader through how to create a story world that characters not only 'hook' into, but which complements the hero's journey and gives it meaning.

Truby writes (and this is something he emphasizes all through "The Anatomy of Story"): just as the interrelations between the characters--especially the protagonist--give meaning to the whole, so it is for settings.

Truby writes: 

"... in good stories, the characters come first, and the writer designs the world to be an infinitely detailed manifestation of those characters."

"The process of translating the story line into a physical story world, which then elicits certain emotions in the audience, is a difficult one. That's because you are really speaking two languages—one of words, the other of images—and matching them exactly over the course of the story."

Here is John Truby's advice for creating a story world rich in meaning:

1. Create The Story Space

1a. Use the story's designing principle to draw the boundaries of your story world.

Begin with the story's designing principle "since this is what holds everything together." The designing principle will tell you where to draw the boundaries, what shape the world should be, what kind of world it should be.

1b. Divide the story world into visual oppositions.

Divide the story world we delineated in step one into "visual oppositions" based on how your characters oppose one another.

2. Three types of setting.

Truby advises us to "detail the world using ... natural settings, artificial spaces, and technology."

3. Connect the story world to the hero's overall development.

When I read this part of Truby's book I knew I had to share this information on my blog. This point is really why I'm doing this post, we're going through steps 1 and 2 because they're prerequisites to get here.

SO. Let's take this one step at a time.

1. Creating The Story Space

1a. Use the story's designing principle to find the boundaries of your story world. 

First, let's quickly discuss the designing principle. This is one of the core concepts of Truby's "The Anatomy of Story" so I'm not going to be able to do it justice here. 

Truby writes:

"The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts."

Think of the designing principle as the seed, the idea seed, the nucleus, that a story grows from. Here's one of Truby's examples:


Designing principle: "Force a male chauvinist to live as a woman."

(Note: Truby also talks about the premise but I'm not going to cover this concept here.)

Finding the boundaries.

What we want to do is develop a one line description of our setting, something that will tie it into the designing principle of our story.

Here's an example from the movie, "Four Weddings and a Funeral":

Designing principle: "A group of friends experiences four Utopias (weddings) and a moment in hell (funeral) as they all look for their right partner in marriage."

Story World: "The Utopian world and rituals of weddings."

John Truby gives many more examples in his book, and I should mention that I'm leaving out an enormous amount of material--the story premise, theme line, and so on.

Anyway, after you write down the designing principle you're equipped to delineate the extent of the story world, to clearly establish its physical boundaries.

Truby writes that the story "arena is the basic space of drama. It is a single, unified place surrounded by some kind of wall. Everything inside the arena is part of the story. Everything outside the arena is not."

Truby goes on to say there are four main ways of creating a story arena that possess enough "variety of place and action" to sustain the events of any story.

i. The Spotted Umbrella

Think of a medieval town surrounded by thick walls. Many inhabitants of the town could have a general overall knowledge of the town and how it's laid out, its various areas, and so on, though a particular individual might spend most of their time in only a few of its many environs.

For example, when I watched the movie "Aliens" I had a general sense of the planet but Ripley only travelled to a few places on its surface. In terms of my analogy, those are the spots within the umbrella.

ii. The Straight Line

This is the basic layout of a journey story.

One of the challenges of writing a cohesive journey story is making all the different areas seem connected. 

What one usually doesn't want is for the reader to feel as though each location is a different story. You want them to feel it's all part of one unified tale.

One way to create "the sense of a single area" is for the terrain the hero travels through to remain fundamentally the same.

For instance, a hero might travel to several different villages located along the same river. Or the hero might travel to several locations in the same desert or country.

Truby gives the movie "Titanic" as an example of a story where the hero travels in a straight line.

iii. The Circle

This approach has much in common with the previous one, with the exception that, at the end, the hero returns home. Truby's example: "The Wizard of Oz."

iv. Fish Out Of Water

The fish out of water story generally utilizes two different worlds.

In one world, the first, the hero is seen to have certain talents (or weaknesses). Then the hero is unceremoniously tossed into a second world--one where the rules are markedly different--and those same talents (or weaknesses) are shown.

Often, whatever the hero did well in one world he will be completely incompetent at in the other. 

Of course, the two worlds aren't necessarily different physical places. Something could happen to so completely alter the social environment of the hero that the change is just as profound as a change of place. For instance, the hero's five older siblings die in a tragic accident and so he goes from completely ignored to being continually doted on.

Truby's examples: "Beverly Hills Cop," "Crocodile Dundee."

Note: Truby writes: "What holds them [the separate locations] together is that the hero uses the same talents in both places ..."

Truby's tip: Don't stay too long in the first area. Truby doesn't like talking about acts, but I'd say, in a three act story, be sure to take the hero into the second world--the special world of the adventure--at the beginning of the second act.

1b. Divide the story world into visual oppositions.

Ask yourself: 

What are the oppositions between my characters? 
What values do they hold?
How do your characters fight each other?
How do their values conflict?

As you ask and answer these questions think about how these oppositions could be symbolized or represented visually.

Truby advises writers to attempt to produce three or four critical, visual, oppositions.

Truby uses the example of "King Kong." The opposition is, in part, between "Carl Denham, and the giant prehistoric beast, Kong. So the main opposition within the story world is the island of New York, the man-made and overly civilized but extremely harsh world where image-maker Denham is "king," versus Skull Island, the extremely harsh state of nature where Kong, master of physical force, is king."


2. Three types of setting.

There are three main kinds of settings:

a. Natural settings
b. Man-made settings
c. Tools/Technology

a. Natural settings

i. The ocean.

An ocean has two parts: the surface and the deep, dark, depths.

The surface:

The surface of the ocean gives us a sense of contest, a sense of "a game of life and death played out on the grandest scale."

The deep places: 

- A weightless dream world.
- A terrifying graveyard.

In the deep places sea creatures reach up to grab those on the surface and drag them down to their death in the murky depths.

Also, when I think of the deep places of the ocean, it occurs to me that often bodies of water are used to symbolize the unconscious mind and the creatures/complexes it harbours.

ii. The forest.

The forest is a natural cathedral. "It is the place where contemplative people go and to which lovers sneak away."

The forest is also where children get lost and witches live. There may also be a ghost or two and we wouldn't be surprised to see a hunter stalking his prey.

John Truby talks about many other kinds of natural settings: outer space, jungles, desert and ice, islands, mountains (the mountain vs the plain), plains, rivers, weather. But I'll let you read about those in Truby's excellent book. 

b. Man-made settings

Truby writes that each man-made space "is a physical representation, in microcosm, of the hero and the society in which he lives."

I'm only going to go over one of Truby's examples: the house.

The house.

A house encloses a character and "shapes the growth of the person's mind."

Houses are intimate. They are spaces where your character can express himself without fear of ridicule. 

Question: What might your hero reveal about himself in his house that he wouldn't anywhere else?

The opposites.

Safety vs Adventure

Generally, we think of a house as a place of safety. It's a place for you to relax and take refuge in, it's a place for you to enjoy your friends and family. 

No hostile forces are allowed in. 

In this sense, a house is a place of safety.

BUT if the hero remains always in a safe place he will never grow, never achieve anything. He will stagnate. Truby writes that the trick is to use the house as "the strong foundation from which we go out and take on the world."

"Often in stories, the first step of adventure, the longing for it, happens at the window. A character looks through the eyes of a house ..." looks out at the far hills, at the mountaintop or even the jungle, and dreams of what might be, dreams of adventure.

Truby has many other examples, and he talks about various kinds of houses (the warm house, the terrifying house, the cellar versus the attic). Truly, if you have any questions about setting, developing the opposites, how to hook the characters in your story into the landscape/setting, chapter six of "The Anatomy of Story" is definitely worth the read.

3. Connect the story world to the hero's overall development.

THIS--connecting, hooking, the story world (/setting) into the hero's arc, his journey--is really what I've been wanting to talk about. 

We've laid the foundation by formulating our story's designing principle and drawing the boundaries of our world. We've divided this story world into visual oppositions and we've explored the various types of settings (natural, artificial, technology) and how these can help develop the hero's journey.

But since this post is already twice as long as usual, I'll save that for next time.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "almost may" by paul bica under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, January 18

Michael Connelly And Narrative Setting

Once I begin thinking about something--setting for instance--I'll start to see mention of it everywhere.

Michael Connelly On Setting

For instance, Michael Connelly (he writes, among other things, the fabulous Harry Bosch novels) recently gave an interview to Noah Charney over at The Daily Beast (How I Write: Michael Connelly). Connelly says:

"What has inspired me for going on 40 years is chapter 13 [of Raymond Chandler's book The Little Sister]."

Right there Connelly had me hooked. (Keep in mind this is the first sentence of the interview. Granted, the interviewer arranged the questions, but that's a great first line.) One chapter has inspired Connelly for 40 years.

Anyway, Connelly goes on:

"In that chapter Philip Marlowe, frustrated by the events of the day and the case he's on, takes a ride around Los Angeles. He ruminates a bit on what is going on in his case, but the chapter has little to do with plot, and everything to do with the interplay of character and place."

When I read the above passage I was struck again by the extreme importance and power of the interplay between character and setting (as well as the importance of sequels--but that's a topic for another day). Connelly goes on:

"... he [Chandler] had grabbed the character of place and connected it to the character of his protagonist."

Ah ha!

Yes, while I was reading the article I actually said "ah ha!" and, excited, began scribbling out this blog post. (grin)

What Connelly is talking about here--this is my take on it at least--is setting as character. Also, he highlights the importance of connecting setting (as well as everything else!) back up to the protagonist.

As Dwight V. Swain says, something is significant in a novel to the extent it is significant to the protagonist.

The Neverending Series

I know I said this was going to be the last post in my series about setting but what John Truby says about the subject in his book The Anatomy of Story is just too good not to include.

On Monday I'll talk about creating the, as John Truby puts it, "exterior forms and spaces," of a story. I'll also touch on how these exterior forms are created from, how they are generated by, the essence of the story itself.

Stay tuned!

Photo credit: "Untitled" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, January 15

Narrative Setting: Part Three

Yesterday I mentioned I'd read The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. 


Truby has an excellent section on developing your story's setting. Even though I wanted (really really wanted) to finish this series today, I'm going to tack on another article and go into Truby's insights on how to develop a setting that will make any story more engaging. Here's a peek:

Truby writes: 

"To sum up this part of the writing process [developing a setting]: you start with a simple story line (the seven steps) and a set of characters. You then create the exterior forms and spaces that express these story elements, and these forms and spaces have the desired effect in the hearts and minds of your audience."

I'll go into what Truby means by a story line, the seven steps, and so on, in the fourth (and final!) part of this series. (The previous parts can be found here and here.)

Today, though, let's get back on track and talk about how setting can introduce, and increase, story conflict.

3. The setting of a story can be used to introduce, and increase, conflict.

Let's look at what conflict is. Simply stated, I think of conflict as what results when a character's efforts to attain a goal are opposed/frustrated.

Many times what opposes a character's efforts to attain their goal is another character. But the environment can do this as well.

For instance, perhaps your protagonist, Hank, is a teenager and his goal is to win the prestigious Sunnyside Surfing Competition but he can't win unless he trains for it.

Big problem! Hanks family recently moved from the sunny, sandy, beaches of Sunnyside to Montreal ... and it's winter! Hank can't train for the competition so he's sure to lose. 

That sets up a problem, an obstacle Hank must solve, and all because of a change of setting.

Many times I forget to take advantage of opportunities to introduce, or increase, conflict the setting could provide. 

An example of using setting to increase conflict

Have you ever watched Mr. Monk? That show was fabulous at using setting to introduce conflict.

In the third episode of season one, Monk is introduced to the police commissioner--an important person and someone he will have to impress with his detective skills if he is ever to get back on the force, and getting back on the force is Monk's great overriding goal.

Monk's desire: to be on his best behavior, appear normal, and impress the man.

Problem/obstacle/complication: the commissioner has a few crumbs on his jacket.

Conflict: Monk wants to brush the crumbs off but he knows that's not a good idea.

Outcome: Monk can't help himself and brushes the crumbs off anyway.

Here the crumbs were used to provoke an action that not only shows Monk's obsessive-compulsive disorder but it also introduces conflict. 

Here's another example, one you've probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: a waiter stumbles, spilling scalding coffee into the protagonist's lap when he needs to be on his best behavior. How he handles this situation will reveal his/her character and could introduce conflict.

Does he turn it into a joke? Is he gracious? Arrogant? Condescending? If it happens just before a job interview how does he explain the stain to the interviewer? Does it fluster him? Does he shrug it off? Does it make him so distracted he can't complete the interview? Does it make him so angry he makes a terrible impression?

The trick is to always be on the lookout for opportunities to use setting to introduce, or increase, conflict.

Example: How setting can affect mood

Here's another example. Let's say we're writing a horror story. What mood do we wish to evoke in our readers? We wish to horrify them. What evokes horror?

In a sense, fear is acknowledgement of, or recognition of, the imminence of danger.

So, what evokes horror?
- Recognition of the imminence of death. Your death as well as the deaths of those you love.
- Recognition of the imminence of pain.
- Recognition of the imminence of the unknown.
- Recognition of the imminence of disfigurement. (Think of slasher films like Saw. Gorn.)
- Recognition of the imminence of confinement, of imprisonment. Of being at the mercy of an imaginative and well-equipped sadist.
- Recognition of the imminence of disillusionment. The imminence of destructive revelation.

What sort of setting would help communicate these sort of feelings/thoughts to the reader? 

The Dark

The dark hides things. It makes the familiar alien. It manufactures the unknown.


The isolation of the hero means no outside help. They are stranded, all alone. If the hero wins and escapes the horrors, they will have to do it relying on only what is within them.


I think the best monsters--(for me) the scariest--are normal things that have been twisted in some way. I haven't been the same since I watched Pet Sematary

Speaking of the twisted, just yesterday, +John Ward sent out a link to this article about creepypasta. Here's an example of twisting a familiar setting to create horror:
‘Daddy, I had a bad dream.’

You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness — it’s 3:23. ‘Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?’

‘No, Daddy.’

The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter’s pale form in the darkness of your room. ‘Why not, sweetie?’

‘Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy’s skin sat up.’

For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can’t take your eyes off of your daughter. The covers behind you begin to shift.

By the way, that's also an excellent use of the seldom used second person POV!

I thought that piece of microfiction nicely illustrated how important setting is to evoking emotion. 

The setting used in the above story is familiar. Intimate. Would the story have the same impact if it was morning, rather than the witching hour, and the exchange took place while the child's parents were busy preparing for work? I don't think so.

Surprise & Disorientation

Surprise and disorientation are used to generate a feeling of horror and, often, setting is instrumental in this. The dark, the isolation, the monster under the bed. Think of the last part of Alien when Sigourney Weaver makes her way to the shuttle, running down the twisting hallways, expecting danger at every turn. For me, it was the most suspenseful part of the movie.

By the way, IMHO, a movie that did a terrific job of using setting to communicate mood, and using both mood and setting to demonstrate character, was Pi.

Okay, that's it for now. Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-006 blue monday morning" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 13

John Truby And The Anatomy Of Story

John Truby And The Anatomy Of Story

Yesterday I read John Truby's, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. I've had the book for ages, many people recommended it, but something was always more important than sitting down to study it. Or so I thought. 

Big mistake! 

Today I'm going to talk about John Truby's answer to the question: What is a story and what do we want it to do?

(Note: I was going to post the third and final part of my "Narrative Setting" series today. I will post that on Wednesday instead.)

What Stories Are

Imagine you're telling a story to a group of people. Truby writes that if the story you tell is a good story, two things will happen:

1. Your reader/listener will be emotionally enmeshed in the life of the protagonist.

In other words, a good story makes the reader identify with the protagonist. 

But, more than this, the reader will (ideally) be so caught up in the story they will experience her emotions, they will feel her both her happiness and her pain. This is what happens when we cry at the end of a sad story.

Truby writes that:

"[...] The storyteller is really selecting, connecting, and building a series of intense moments. These moments are so charged that the listener feels he is living them himself. Good storytelling doesn't just tell audiences what happened in a life. It gives them the experience of that life. [...]

"Good storytelling lets the audience relive events in the present so they can understand the forces, choices, and emotions that led the character to do what he did. [Emphasis mine]"

2. Your reader/listener will be engaged in a verbal game you are playing.

Truby writes:

"The storyteller is first and foremost someone who plays. Stories are verbal games the author plays with the audience."


"As a creator of verbal games that let the audience relive a life, the storyteller is constructing a kind of puzzle about people and asking the listener to figure it out. The author creates this puzzle in two major ways: he tells the audience certain information about a made-up character and he withholds certain information."

Why withholding information is important:

We've all heard this advice before: Don't overexplain! (Often there are several exclamation marks.) And it's great advice. But why

Why is overexplanation--and it's cousin, the premature information dump--such poison to a reader's enjoyment of a story?

Truby offers this cogent explanation:

"Withholding, or hiding, information is crucial to the storyteller's make-believe. It forces the audience to figure out who the character is and what he is doing and so draws the audience into the story."


These are the two main parts of story:

1. Feeling: Character Identification

Members of the audience--the audience as a whole--must feel as though (this is the goal) they have lived through the events of the story with the protagonist. This is part of character identification.

Truby holds that three things must happen for an audience to identify with a character. The audience must:

a. Understand the forces that led the protagonist to do what he does.
b. Understand the choices that led the protagonist to do what he does.
c. Understand the emotions that led the protagonist to do what he does.

2. Thinking: A verbal game or puzzle

We need to give the audience enough information about a character to identify with them, but withhold enough so that they are still curious, so that they want more."

We need to force the audience to:

a. Figure out who the character is.
b. Figure out what he is doing.

Change: The heart of story

Change lies at the heart of every story. 

What causes change? What inspires it? What drives it?

Truby writes:

"... change is fuelled by desire."

Desire is what "propels all conscious, living things and gives them direction. A story tracks what a person wants, what he'll do to get it, and what costs he'll have to pay along the way."

"A character pursuing a desire takes actions to get what he wants, and he learns new information about better ways to get it. Whenever he learns new information, he makes a decision and changes his course of action."

"Any character who goes after a desire and is impeded is forced to struggle (otherwise the story is over). And that struggle makes him change."

The Climax Of A Story

At the end of a story we have the culminating event. This is what everything so far has let up to, all the character identification, all the verbal puzzles. Truby writes:

"The focal point [of a story] is the moment of change, the impact, when a person breaks free of habits and weaknesses and ghosts from his past and transforms to a richer and fuller self."

A word of caution

I agree with Truby that, generally, usually, the culmination of a story is that point--usually toward the end of the a story--it is that point of internal change, when the hero goes through an internal transformation.

That is, I agree with him to a point. I think it depends on the kind of story one wishes to write. 

Take Indiana Jones And Raiders of The Lost Ark as an example. The movie did very well at the box office and enjoys high reviews (for example, it ranks at 95% at

Indiana Jones didn't have a focal point. He didn't have a moment of change. He didn't have a transformation of any sort. At least, not that I could tell. (Perhaps, though, I enjoy the movie so much as an action tale I've missed it. That's possible.)

I'm sorry, I have to say this: The ark was the only arc in that movie!

(Sorry, couldn't resist. Won't happen again.)

I read somewhere that Raiders was intended to be a homage to the pulp heroes of the 40s and 50s, and pulp heroes, in general, didn't have character arcs. (At least, the few that I've read didn't.) That movie was just about being a terrific action tale and, of course, answering the question: What will happen if they open the ark?

Truby focuses on internal change--and so he should. I'm not arguing with that. 

Really, I'm not. 

I'm just pointing out that not all financially successful and well loved heroes have both an internal and an external arc. Some, like Indy in Raiders, only have an external one.

That's it! On Wednesday I'll finish up my three part series on narrative setting by talking about how setting can help build conflict. Also, at some point in the future I'll discuss Truby's Seven Key Structure Steps.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "Ellipse" by Daniele Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, January 11

Narrative Setting: Part Two

Narrative Setting: Part Two

This is part two of a three part series about narrative setting. In part one (Narrative Setting) I talked about what setting is. Today, in part two, I'll go over how setting can be used to develop character. In part three I'll focus on how setting can be used to introduce--and increase--conflict.

Before I talk about setting and character, let me tie up a loose end from my Narrative Setting post and talk briefly about how setting can affect the mood of a story.

Setting And Mood

"Mood creates an emotional setting that envelops the reader." 

The key point here is that mood is something that is created in the reader. (Tone, on the other hand, has to do with the voice of the narrator.) Recall that since our goal in telling a story is to evoke certain emotions in the reader, creating the right sort of mood is important.

I'll be talking a bit more about mood in my third post when I discuss examples.

All right! On to the topic of todays blog post: how a good setting helps us develop our characters' character.

Ways In Which Setting Can Be Used To Develop Character

1. Setting is essential to bring the story world to life through the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing.

2. Setting is essential for situating the character in--not just surroundings--but a society, a culture.

3. The setting of a story can be used to introduce, and increase, conflict.
Let's take these point by point.

1. Setting is essential to bring the world of the story to life through the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing.

The following is from Dwight V. Swain's excellent book, "Techniques of the Selling Writer":
"... How do you bring a setting to life?

"The answer, of course, lies in the human animal himself. His world is a sensory world—a world of green grass and white houses . . . purring kittens and thundering trucks . . . Chanel No. 5 and curling wood smoke . . . fresh cold orange juice and hot crisp bacon . . . silk’s rich smoothness and the harsh grit of volcanic ash.

"So, you build your story world of these same sensory impressions—the seen, the heard, the smelled, the touched, the tasted. Emphasis is on the vivid image and the impactful figure of speech."
A trick I sometimes use--I suppose it's not really a trick, more like a practise or a habit--is to keep lists of sensory words close at hand and review them periodically. 

Also, if I come across a particularly vivid turn of phrase--for instance, "curling wood smoke"--I write it down. And, as I write, I say it aloud. Picture it. For me, "curling wood smoke," that phrase, gives a certain feeling, it conveys a certain mood. It invokes memories of campfires and long warm nights up at my parents' place. Think how you could describe something else and invoke the same, or a similar, memory/feeling.

Here are a few links to lists of words that evoke the senses:








2. Developing a milieu is essential for situating the character in--not just surroundings--but a society, a culture.

I talked a bit about this last time. This advice is from Dwight V. Swain and appears in his book "Creating Characters." He writes:
"Milieu is a word I like. Because while, technically, it’s defined as environment or surroundings, it implies a great deal more.

"Specifically, it captures the feeling not just of setting or landscape, but of a society; a social as well as a physical locale. Growing up in San Francisco implies more than just the Golden Gate, Pacific Park, and Union Square. Life in the Mississippi Delta is one thing; that in a Pennsylvania Amish community, another. And double that in spades for a past in the slums of Juarez, the singles bars of New York’s Upper West Side, or a French convent.

"Such social settings reach out to embrace people as well as geography. They mold the various strata of society that fix standards, for mutually accepted norms and rules are the glue that bonds any group or class together. Shared customs, which clothes are acceptable for which occasions, and how to behave in church or mosque or synagogue are what create a society."
Dwight V. Swain continues on to say that writers must know at least these two things regarding a character in a society:

1. "[...] know the rules and conduct patterns that govern behavior in that particular setting;"

2. "[...] know the degree to which Character follows these rules;"

This presents the writer with three questions:
a) What are the rules of your particular society (or societies)?

b) Does your character know the rules? (Did he grow up in this society or is he a stranger?)

c) Does your character follow the rules?
That's it! Next time we'll finish off this series by looking at how to use setting to increase conflict. 

Update: Here's the link to Narrative Setting: Part Three.

Stay tuned. Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-009 - dry folsom" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.