How to use setting in your story

08.14.2016Setting is an important part of any story. You want the reader grounded and relating to where the story takes place. Don’t leave her stranded. For instance, I critiqued the opening chapter of a novel today and all I know is that it was set in the desert. Which desert? What time of year (yes, deserts have seasons. In Arizona, summer is monsoon season).

On the other hand, too much setting makes your reader’s eyes glaze over. They start skipping ahead, one of the worst things imaginable for a writer.

Setting establishes mood, builds tension and adds characterization. It should engage the senses, but you don’t want a laundry list-the air smelled of jasmine; the scree of the birds raised the hair on Margaret’s neck; etc., etc. Like all description, setting should be dropped in a piece at a time.

Setting should be important to the point of view (POV) character. What does it reveal about her personality? Is she afraid of water? Heights? Is she a city girl lost in the forest? Establish an emotional connection, build the setting around the character’s fears, add challenges, and the plot becomes more complicated.

My latest story, Snow White and the Eighth Dwarf, now in revision, is set in winter in the Enchanted Forest. You bet I take advantage of snow and ice and storms to set the mood, add value to scenes, and challenge the characters. The weather deepens their struggles and creates lots of delicious conflict.

On the subject of weather, never, ever start a story with a weather report. Weather may be an important element to the story, but it’s not strong enough to hook the reader into reading more.

Weather should not be used as a mirror of the character’s mood. Rainy at a funeral is overdone and ineffective for today’s sophisticated reader. Instead, show the character’s reaction to the weather. Make it work for or against the character to bring the reader deeper into her point of view.

When describing setting, do so from the character’s point of view. What would she notice? How would she describe it? Use her language. Make the descriptions true to her character.

Remember pacing when describing setting. If your characters are fighting for their lives in an icy river (as do Snow White and her hero, Lex), they’ll notice the cold and the rush of the water, maybe the sound, but the pacing is furious. They’re fighting for their lives and have no time to recognize the song of a bird flying overhead.

By now, you recognize the importance of setting in your story. It can be a secondary character in moving the plot forward, establishing mood and creating conflict. Handled well, setting pulls your reader deeper into the story. Isn’t that what every writer wants?

Happy writing!



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How to write like a demon. 57K in 34 days.




How to write like a demon. 57K in 34 days.



I’ve finished the first draft of my WIP (work in progress for those not in the know). I set a goal of August 1st to complete it, and I did. The time zone used is fuzzy. Okay, I borrowed one hour and forty-three minutes from August, but I wrote 57K words from June 28-August 1.

The story of my story:

Two years ago, I started a tale of Snow White. The reason remains lost to me, but I abandoned it at 9900 words. Outlined, short blurbs written for what should happen, but abandoned. I pulled it out in June, dusted it off, added more to the outline and began writing on June 28th. I expected to complete it at 40-45K, but the scenes kept growing. My final word count is 67,653. Some of that will be deleted. I’ve already marked two scenes because they wandered away from me.

Writing fast is a high. I set a 1K goal for each day and met it for all but three days. Two days were spent with family (two toddlers = no energy to write) and one day I vegged.

How did I write 57K in 34 days? Internal editor banished. Eyes closed. Music in headphones at times. Heavy use of xxxx for “look this up later” and “I don’t have time for the perfect word”. ** for “I might have used this word six times in the past two paragraphs, check later”. In fact, checking later is one of the keys to racking up the words. It’s an incredible high.

The next step is letting it simmer while I turn to some editing chores I’ve neglected. The Dearly Departed Dating Service is with my beta readers and cover artist. I’m combing the first draft (I write fairly clean) for obvious errors (using chose instead of chosen). When I receive my edits and covers, stay tuned for a release announcement.



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Too many people are shallow, narcissistic, and uncaring how their actions affect others. Have a little compassion. Be supportive. Make a difference in the good things you do. Let’s not be known as “that person”.

Reblogging from Whitney Dineen’s blog


I’ve recently stumbled into a bit of controversy in my career as a romantic comedy author. A couple of months ago I released an much anticipated sequel to a bestselling book. As a result, some of my fans are infuriated with me, as in spitting, hock-a-loogie mad. As in, “I’m never reading your books again, you horrible woman…” irate.

Every author receives negative views, it’s expected. It’s almost a rite of passage to get your first 1-star review on a new release. Yet I’ve noticed a trend lately. There’s a new nastiness to reviews that didn’t seem to exist before social media became our “go-to” avenue of communication. It’s been a human characteristic since Aesop– familiarity breeds contempt.

Once upon a time, when the only way to communicate with an author, was to write them a letter and send it to their publisher, people didn’t unleash their vitriol so freely. If it took time and effort and they had to think, “Is this really worth doing? Do I really feel this passionately?” they would realize their feelings were not particularly that strong. It was a heat of the moment thing.

In our current Kardashian-driven world of “my life is your life” and nothing is private, barriers are lowered and people feel comfortable slinging their opinions willy nilly as though there aren’t real people behind the tens of thousands of written words and hundreds of hours of sweat and tears involved in completing a manuscript.

I was toodling around a fellow author’s page on Facebook the other day and came across an announcement that author CM Foss was stepping out of the writing game. CM is known for writing contemporary romances. In her swan song letter of resignation, as it were, she states the following:

“I have watched others (and certainly been there myself) literally killing themselves to get a book out. They do a million takeovers, give away thousands of books, give gift cards of their own money, mail out paperbacks and swag like it’s free, politely beg for reviews, entertain, hold their tongue when their work is torn apart and shrug off senseless character attacks. Daily.”

She goes on to say:

As for me, I’ll be closing my laptop and unplugging my Kindle. I’ll be reading old-fashioned paperbacks and re-reading old favorites. My writing life is a chapter closed. My books are unpublished. My last stash has been signed and shipped to The Bookworm Box, so if you get a hankerin’ for one, give them your money. They’ll do right by it.”

She signs her letter: God bless, peace out, and #dontbeadick

I’m not exactly sure what pushed CM Foss to walk away from six published works. She’s held strong to her word of leaving the industry and hasn’t responded to my attempts at communication. It seems, though, it is at least in part a result of shoddy treatment by some readers. And she is/was an author with very good reviews.

The #dontbeadick hashtag got me to thinking. Acting like a dick has become acceptable in our world. I’m not sure where manners have gone. Perhaps we are all so desperate to have someone hear us that we go overboard in our opinions to reach that aim.

I, for one, am pleased when a reviewer doesn’t like my work and takes well thought out time to explain their opinion, honestly, not hatefully. Often I don’t agree, because hey, I’m my biggest fan. But I do think about what they say and it does impact my future work.

One woman counted the times I used vulgarity in a particular book. It was part of her review. At first I was offended. Vulgarity is part of our world. When my character is screaming mad, I will not have her yell, “Geezy Pete, you hurt my feelings!” when what is really required is a good old-fashioned “Fuck you!” But you know what? That review weighed heavily on my mind when I wrote my next book and I consciously realized vulgarity was not needed as frequently.

Book reviews are just one small part of this epidemic. Last week I saw a video on social media about a woman berating a checker at Walmart for being slow and messing things up. It turns out, his mom committed suicide that morning and he had to go to work because he was now the head of his household and they needed the money, and because he had the added expense of burying his mother.

I was in a restaurant last week when a lady at the table next to us unleashed on the server because her food wasn’t prepared exactly to her specifications. She made threats and demands with spittle flying. The poor server was near tears.

This morning, I was driving down a road near my house, to see the car in front of me tailgating the car in front of him. When the road opened to two lanes, he drove by the other car, laid on his horn and gave the driver the finger. As I passed, I noticed the slow driver was an old woman who looked scared out of her mind.

All of this leads me to ask, where the heck has common decency gone? What’s happened to our ability to react proportionately? Do we all feel so small, so underappreciated in our lives that we need to lash out at others in a misguided attempt to regain our power?

There is something to be said for catching more flies with honey than crap. If your food comes out cold, send it back. If your checker at Walmart is slow, cut him some slack for being human with problems just like the rest of us. If you don’t like a book, say why you don’t like it, but be respectful. When an old woman is driving slowly in front of you, don’t tailgate her and make her more fearful. Back off and ask, “What if that was my mom?” Throw her some good joo joo. But I implore you to stop with the personal attacks and rage. Go the extra mile to be thoughtful and on point, not malicious and out of control.

Don’t let good manners and compassion become extinct. Let’s use them and teach them to our children. Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Remember the karmic wheel. And when you’re full of righteous indignation and fury at an author, waiter, checkout clerk or old woman in traffic, remember the thoughtful words of author, CM Foss, #dontbeadick.



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