Monday, August 9, 2010


Before Darlene gets started, I'm going to interrupt this post to announce that Darlene Franklin's book A STRING OF MURDERS is a finalist in The Carol sponsored by ACFW! CONGRATULATIONS, Darlene!


When a reader picks up a book, she enters into a silent pact with the author. I am willing to believe in your fictional world, as long as you make it real. Don’t say or do something that makes me remember this is just a work of fiction.

I was reminded of this while listening to the radio the other day. One DJ said, “I’m going to spend a week on the beach in Maine.”

If I had read that line in a book, the author would have lost credibility with me. Because I grew up in Maine, I know that while it has some beautiful beaches, most of its more than 2,000 miles of shoreline consists of a rugged, rocky coast. The same thing happened in a book where an author named a town in Colorado “Maple Gap.” A strange thing to name a place in a state where maple trees aren’t common. Other than that, the book was wonderful, but it made me wonder: does the author know her setting?

I even made the same mistake myself, misnaming the river that flows through San Antonio in my first book, Romanian Rhapsody. Oops. For every person who pointed out my mistake, ten must have noticed and lost a little faith in me as a writer.

How do you keep the reader in your fictional world?

• Get the physical details right. If possible, visit the place, so you can experience it with all five senses. Study it online, through books, first hand accounts. Talk with people who have been there.
• Get the words right. This applies mostly to historical novels. In my current work in progress, I discovered that “scat” was used in 1845, but that “squishy” didn’t appear until 1847. This also applies to fashions, machines, and items of every day life.
• Get the characters right. In my current WIP, my hero looks at the heroine, thinking she looks like an angel. I added a great punch line. “Satan was an angel of light, he reminded himself. Don’t let her looks lead you astray.” The problem? She has done nothing to suggest she will lead him astray, nor have I portrayed the hero as paranoid about women. I have to rethink that line.
• Keep the details consistent. If the heroine has green eyes in the first chapter, don’t change them to hazel in chapter ten.

I would love to see examples of setting in your writing. Send a paragraph or so description and let us savor a different time (if applicable) and place. Below are two snippets of my recently released book, Prodigal Patriot, a historical romance set in northern Vermont.

Josiah brushed at the mosquitoes that buzzed around any exposed patches of skin,
far worse here than in Maple Notch. Transporting Van Dyke to his home via Lake
Champlain had seemed like a good plan when Solomon suggested it. On the water,
Josiah wasn’t so sure. Every insect in two states decided to feast on them en
route. . . . .

Van Dyke guided them through milfoil and water chestnuts
toward the bank, where trees grew so dense Josiah didn’t see how even a fox
could squeeze through. The canoe glided underneath the cool canopy, the lake
only a slender line of blue through branches blurred by foliage.


  1. Man, where does the time go? We’re already nearing the end of this post!

    Congratulations on your book being a finalist, Darlene! That’s wonderful news!

    Great examples of setting, too. Not sure I can top that, but I’ll put forth an effort anyway.


    Colorado Rocky Mountains
    Fall 1881

    Seven-year-old Estelline lay on the bent tree and hugged it as if it were Mama.

    Grateful to be out of the frigid water, she pressed her cheek against the damp bark and clung for life. Suspended over the dangerous rapids, she peered through wet strands of hair plastered to her face. The turbulent waters of the river rushed not far beneath her. It swept along a bank of snow close to the river’s edge, and she could still hear its roaring around the bend. When she’d first heard it, she thought it was thunder, but it was a waterfall.

    And she’d fallen down it.

    Something had wrapped itself around her neck. Daring to let go of the tree with one hand, she reached and found her bonnet string. But her fingers were too numb to loosen it. After a frustrated tug, she gave up and breathed past the strangling sensation.

    Pine trees, jagged rocks and patches of snow lined the banks. The sun reflected off the water rushing beneath her. She clung tighter to the tree and coughed. A bird whistled as it fluttered by her and flew into the sky.

    The blue sky.

    How could the sky still be blue? How could the sun still shine as if nothing had happened? One moment she’d sat happily on the buckboard next to her papa and mama, and the next she’d found herself here—hugging a tree.

  2. Wow, poor Estelline! And well done, considering the fact you are telling the story from a 7 year old’s POV. I like the sensory images of sight (how could the sky still be blue? Love it!), sound (thunder and waterfall) and touch (damp bark, numb fingers).

  3. Very good details! Both of you.