Tag Archives: writing research

Jeanette Hornby - setting of a story post graphic

Ideas for Writing | Choosing the Setting of a Story

Readers generally absorb the setting of a story subconsciously - unless it grates with what they are familiar with! Choosing the setting of a story and accurately communicating it to the reader is, as How to be an Author guest poster, Jeanette Hornby, illustrates, "fundamental in establishing the mood" and believability of the wider story.

Choosing the Setting of a Story

by Jeanette Hornby

Jeanette Hornby - setting of a story post graphicThe setting for a novel includes the historical time period, culture, and location of the story, and is fundamental in establishing the mood and scene of coming events. Where stories discuss such subjects as society and environment, the setting is extremely significant. In some instances, it is possible for the setting to become a character itself.

If the story is woven around an actual event then the setting can be pivotal to the plot. The consequences of the event are ‘real’ and will affect how we write about the fictional characters and their responses to the incident. We cannot ignore the historical outcome if the story is set in a real place or time.

The setting may be a real location or a fictional one. It is even possible to use both fictional and real places in a story.

Real Locations, Fictional Places

In my novels, I use real locations but add fictional places within them. This allows me to use historical landmarks and events while taking the story in any direction I choose. I find it easier to begin with real places rather than make up completely fictional ones though this may change in the future.

My first two novels are set in my home-town in Western Australia and the setting should have been easy to describe, but the stories are set in the ’70s and ’80s, respectively, and things have changed since then. I had to retrieve old memories, photos, and scrapbooks to help me ‘re-live’ those days.

“how they dealt with the bigotry and turmoil of Australian life in those eras”

The setting was important in these two novels because the subject matter centred on the lives of my characters (children of Italian migrants) and how they dealt with the bigotry and turmoil of Australian life in those eras. The small country town in which I lived was just one example of the migrant struggle for acceptance in Australia at the time, and revealed the changing face of Australia, so was crucial to the story.


The hours of research were worth the effort and I rather enjoyed taking a walk down memory-lane. Thankfully, I am familiar with the ‘Australian-isms’ and was able to set the scenes rather easily and authentically.

All my novels, thus far, are set in Australia where I have lived all my life. It is often easier to write about a place that you know because you already have a ‘feel’ for it, but good research can also help the writer with this. Asking questions is vital.

We are privileged to live in this high-tech age where information is readily accessible. My third novel, Candy’s Man, is set in Sydney – a place I have never been – but I was able to research the area on the internet and even gained visual access of certain streets and places with Google Maps. This worked well for my contemporary romance tale.

Characterisation vs Setting

The characters in this novel were the focal point of the story and therefore, the setting was not as significant, but it was still important to set the scene. From a cruise in the Caribbean, to the city of Sydney, it was vital to take the reader on a journey along with the characters. I feel the description of popular Sydney landmarks helped convey the uniqueness of Australia to the reader.

As some of my characters are American in this novel and their culture and language differ somewhat, I was able to use the knowledge of my American editor to find the discrepancies. You can never have too much information, and it all adds to setting the scene.

My current Work-In-Progress, Grapevines and Gum Trees, is set in a historical town in Western Australia, but the actual place and residence of the characters is fictional. This allows me once again to use historical landmarks and events while shaping the story as I see fit.

The story is set in the mid ’80s when ‘progress’ had not yet fully encroached on the small country town. I wanted to portray the area as the tranquil place I remember from my youth.
Once again, I use my knowledge of the area to my advantage, describing landmarks that are well-known in the area. Hopefully, my descriptions give all readers a ‘feel’ of this wonderful country in which I live.

Choosing the setting of a story clearly makes a fundamental contribution and often drives the story line within a novel. How do you choose the setting for your stories? Share your thoughts in the comments below - and share with your friends, too!

Judy Leslie inspiration for writing headshot - how to be an author

Inspiration for Writing | The Old Curiosity Shop

Inspiration for writing sometimes comes like a bolt out of the blue, but more usually, as Bentley Gates and today's How to be an Author guest writer, Judy Leslie, describe, it is more usually a long research project with many parts to it.

Judy is clearly a born story teller - as many who visited her shop would no doubt testify!

My Inspiration for Writing - The Old Curiosity Shop

by Judy Leslie

Judy Leslie inspiration for writing headshot - how to be an authorWhen I walked into the Antique shop on the corner of State and James in the historic town of Bellingham, Washington, I had no idea that I would soon become its owner and would be surrounded by things I knew nothing about. I spent the next year researching everything from grandma’s collectables to old tables and chairs. I quickly learned that there was a story attached to every object no matter how trivial it may seem to the average person. Old wedding gifts, items saved and sacrificed for, mementoes, useful and frivolous objects, all filled my shelves.

I lived in the back of the shop with my cat Betty, and cooked on an old wood stove that I fed with Presto Logs. In the evenings, I would sit in a creaky painted rocker, and scavenge through old black and white photographs and letters, pondering the lives of these long gone relatives. Scattered around me on the worn braided rag-rug, were the frozen memories from an era before I was born. Did they know someday a stranger would be pawing their personal belongings, I wondered? I tried piecing an image together of what life must have been like when these items were new. Were these people happy back then, had life turned out for them as planned?

Living the Inspiration

When people came into my shop I would offer them a fresh baked cookie, a cup of tea, and a comfortable chair to sit and stay a while. We would swap stories about old uncle’s Joe’s or aunt Gertrude’s hand-me-down trinkets and what they might be worth to someone that wanted that ‘junk’. Then I would remind them that perhaps they held some value that couldn’t be bought. Like a child’s first pair of ice skates or a set of hand embroidered tea towels made as a gift by a spinster losing her sight. Once I stirred their imagination they looked around my shop with fresh eyes and became curious about the objects surrounding them.

I would share what I had learned about whatever they were attracted to and soon they would be walking out the door with their new treasure. It was the story they bought, the article was just evidence of the legend. So, it only made sense that someday I would become a historical fiction writer.


Now, many years later with the shop long gone, I’m researching the internet and locating out-of-print publications to find secrets about the past. Instead of antiques, I collect fragments of news articles about the lives of real people most have forgotten. I loved doing the detective work and unwinding the threads of these various characters from long ago and weaving them back together again in a new version of their story.

My novel, For The Love of Ireland evolved from information I discovered about a Chicago couple and their connection to Ireland's Land League, and the secret activities of the Irish-American organization the Clan na Gael. The fact that the wife was a journalist writing under a male name and the husband president of this secret organization made it a perfect story to write. During the 1880s Margaret Sullivan had managed to become a popular American journalist, while hiding her gender, and she was a staunch Irish Nationalist. I learned that she had ties not only to Ireland’s Michael Davitt, but Parliament member Charles Stewart Parnell, as well. I pondered what it must have been like for her during those times, wanting to help Ireland and yet restricted by an unscrupulous husband and a society that perceived women as the weaker sex. I was lucky that she wrote a book in 1881 and that I could get my hands on a copy. After reading it, I felt as though she reached out from the past and whispered For The Love of Ireland in my ear.

If you would like to know more about my novel For The Love of Ireland, please go to www.for-the-love-of-ireland.com . There you can read about the real people my story characters are based on.

And the next time you pass an Antique shop pop in and bring your imagination with you. You never know what story you might leave with.

Have you lived your inspiration for writing? Share your thoughts in the comments below - and this article using the handy share buttons!