How to Describe a Setting: 3 Tips

Settings can be a powerful way of exploring culture, nature, and history — it can also be a way to show the internal joy and pain of your characters who reside within the setting.

Think about the setting you are in: are you enjoying it or are you wanting to leave? How the setting affects us says a lot about who we are. Keep this in mind the next time you write your character into a setting.

Do they want to leave or have they finally made it?

If you want to create a realistic setting for your characters to interact with, consider these 3 aspects when writing:

1. What are the physical elements?

Can you point out where this place is on a map? Are you able to describe the floor plan? Knowing where your setting is located will help you determine how far your character needs to travel to get from one spot to another or where they need to go to retrieve an item or find someone to talk to.

2. What does the place look like?

The appearance of a setting can help the reader learn a lot about it. Does the setting have well-paved roads or are the infrastructures in ruins? Has there been a recent war or is this place prospering? Is the kitchen clean or is it gross and messy? A setting can tell the reader a lot about the history and those that reside there.

3. How do the characters feel?

Does the character want to be there? Does it bring back wonderful memories or has it been a prison for him? What your characters do within that setting will give more details into the relationship between the person and the place. In the end, you can describe the setting all you want, but if the character is not responding to those details appropriately, you will lose your readers.

 

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3 Tips for Introducing a Character in Your Novel

Introducing a character in your novel is a lot like introducing a friend at a party, you shouldn’t tell everybody everything, but rather, just the essential.

From there, you allow the character to engage with his or her surrounding, thus letting everyone else experience the character in action as opposed to you telling the audience everything up front.

When examining how you’ve introduced your character, ask yourself, is this detail relevant? Do the character’s actions show their personality? If so, avoid exposition. Trust that your readers can paint the picture of your character themselves, simply give them the colors they should use and set them off. This is especially important at the beginning of a story, as you don’t want to overload your readers.

How to introduce a character in a novel:

  1. Don’t over describe your characters
  2. Use actions to show traits
  3. Exhibit the character’s flaws

In this video, I’ll give some character introduction examples and gives some writing advice to improve your story.

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6 Tips to Improve the First Chapter [Video]

 

I’ll admit it, my first chapter was not what I thought it would be… there are many areas I can improve.

I counted 6 areas — at least. In this episode, I’m going to highlight six editing tips that you can use when you start writing and editing your first chapter. It is an important chapter, so it is worth taking the time to get it right. You want to introduce the character and the setting. You want to show off some flair and mystery, but you don’t want to cross the line: offer too much backstory, describe the character too much, or miss the opportunity to do the most important thing: tell your story.

1. Know where your story starts

Are you starting in the middle of an action sequence or a moment of intensity? Or are you starting by easing the readers into the story with a regular average day set up? Knowing where your story begins allows you to set the tone for your story.

2. Don’t Over Describe

You may want to impress everyone with your wonderful word choices, but don’t overload it at the start. The important thing is the story. Allow the actions to illustrate your character’s traits and save some of those well-written descriptions for when you really need them.

3. Have a Main Character

Your readers will need a guide through the plot. It can become hard to follow if multiple characters are jostling for the main storyline. You can switch characters later on, sure, but at the beginning, it is advantageous to appoint a character with the lead.

4. Cut Backstory

Don’t overload your first chapter with too much backstory. It is easy to do because you, as a writer and creator of worlds, want to get all the juicy details, history, and lore onto the page. Which is fine. But you are going to have to cut it in the second draft. I must remind you that backstory, although may play a critical role in the story itself, it is also more impactful if the history can be revealed in a way that it feels well blended into the plot. Too much backstory slows everything down.

5. Don’t Mislead

It might be tempting to add a twist or a surprise into your novel right off the bat. Nothing like a good shock to hook your readers, right? Unfortunately, misleading your reader can piss them off and cause them to put down the book and go off and do something that they know will have an appropriate payoff, like cleaning the house. I implore you to avoid starting any story with a dream or simulation sequence.

6. Can it Be a Short Story?

Forget everything else about your novel. Throw it all away. Actually, don’t. Just put it aside. Take only your first chapter and ask yourself, “If someone found this one the street, and they read it… will it be enough for them to have a good time?” If the answer is yes, then carry on.

I hope these tips helped, please let me know what you think. Love to hear your feedback.

 

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How Reading Out Loud Improves Writing [Video]

Always read your writing out loud. Like tasting the food before serving it, reading out loud allows you to identify the nuances of your creation, the elements you wouldn’t notice if you simply read silently.

How does reading out loud improve your writing? Well, your brain is a powerful machine, it is able to piece together information, even if the information is not complete. If a word is missing, your brain would be able to fill it in. It’s actually quite remarkable that it is capable of doing that. However, you don’t want your audience — those that are experiencing your writing for the first time — to get tripped up by missing words or odd sounding sentences. These stylistic slip-ups can distract your reader and take them out of your story.

Reading out loud is the most effective technique when editing. If you skip this step, you might end up with a manuscript containing a lot of embarrassing mistakes.

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How Many Drafts Should You Write? [Video]

 

How many drafts should you write?

4. Well… it could be 4 or it could be 400. Every story is different and every writer is different, and there is no one number. You, as the creator and editor, will have to decide when you are ready to show people what you’ve got.

In this episode The Other Epic Story Vlog, I talk about my strategy for editing my novel.

The 4 Phases of Editing

  1. Structural edit
  2. Grammatical, style, and bad habits edit
  3. Feedback edit
  4. Repeat 1-3 Editing your novel is an important step.

While you can spend forever editing, at some point you need to send it out into the world for feedback.

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After Writing Your First Draft, What’s Next? [Video]

After all the blood, sweat, and tears; after writing your novel. You are now ready for smooth sailing.

Nope! Unless you are both lucky and talented — much more than me, you bastard! — you are going to suffer the trials and tribulations of life after the first draft.

After dumping all your ideas onto paper without worrying about the consequences are over, this is the part where you attempt to make it all make sense. Even if you think you were perfectly coherent while writing the first draft, I can assure you… as I assure myself every time, that what is written in the first attempt is almost laughable.

At some point, you will have to return to the draft but take a break first. You’ve just emptied your brain of all your ideas, now it’s time to let it settle. Relax. After you finish writing your first draft, take a break. Thus returning to it with a fresh new perspective.

 

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What Should I Cut From My Novel? [Video]

 

What should I cut from my novel?

We all want the answer to that question to be nothing. The novel is perfect. Publish it and earn your spot on the New York Times best sellers list. Oh, our delusions. That simply isn’t the case. When we write, often times, we are trying to get all the words down on the paper. What we don’t often see when we are churning away is that some of the characters, subplots, and scenes are unfocused and doesn’t serve the over-arching plot.

When we reread and edit, we must do so with a critical eye, take a step back from the prose itself and ask: does all this connect?

Even if the writing is fantastic, if it doesn’t serve the plot, it might have to be eliminated.

Many authors have said it, so I might as well say it again: Kill your darlings.

Kill your darlings does not mean cutting the parts of the story you love the most, but rather, making the edits that are best for the story, not your ego. Yes, we all want to keep that delightful character that we skillfully crafted or relish in that scene where an epic action sequence occurred, however, if those elements aren’t serving the greater good: the story, then it is best to remove them.  

 

Game plan:

My prologue was not a darling, it was an information dump. I have an idea to make it a more encapsulating scene, and I tend to do so after I finish reading through the novel. If I approach it correctly, I will be able to tie the prologue to the actual storyline of a plot. Yes, that is the plan.

 

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Why Write a Prologue? [Video]

Sometimes, in order to tell the most effective story, your audience needs to have a bit more information than what the plot can supply.

A prologue can do that. A prologue can add a bit of historical detail, usually to introduce an antagonist of some sort through a particular circumstance.

In the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series, The Game of Thrones, we are introduced, very subtly to the White Walkers as a few members from the Night’s Watch has an unsettling encounter with them.

Or there is The Lord of the Rings, where the Ring and Sauron are introduced.

Prologues are not exclusives to introducing antagonist. They can offer any details your story needs but are unable to fit within the actual plot itself. The term “unable” is a tricky one as with any type of finesse, and if the detail is truly vital, you can surely include the information in the plot without having a prologue.

In the end, a prologue is a decision of an author. If used correctly, it can be an effective first jab at hooking the audience. Done poorly, it can be wasted energy slowing down the velocity of your story.

I believe if you so desire to write a prologue, go for it, but afterward, evaluate whether you are simply dumping information onto a page or you are telling an exciting extension of your story and that these detail given at the beginning will be connected later on.

If the detail doesn’t link up, then in the second draft, you might have to cut the prologue. Or, rewrite it so it can do that.

The prologue I wrote for my novel at this time is an idea dump. It’s exposition. I needed it to frame the world I’m going to be creating, but now that I look upon it, I know there is much to be improved on.

 

The last message sent digitally was to let everyone beyond the border know that there was still hope. The slicing of the cyber thread caused all historical records to vanish. Everything men once knew was forgotten, buried by the erosion of time.

Nature hid humanity’s errors. Towers that once pierced the sky were now rubbles and broken stones. Sprouting forests healed lands that have been scarred by highway concrete. Dams broke, bridges collapsed, and everything else that men had made was surmounted by earth, until all remnants of prior existence were lost.

Yet springing from the ashes came life in the familiar forms. Millenniums passed, and there living without knowledge, upon the land that their ancestors had forfeited were new civilizations. Townships, unions, and districts built so far apart, that societies were forced into isolation. Those that lived were simple folks, concerned only with the matters of survival. Yet life was still hidden in a shroud of darkness and mystery. But those who did not understand did not complain, however, those that did, could only stand terrified as they faced the uncertainty.

 

What are your thoughts on prologues? Do you use them in your writing? I’d love to hear about it.

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Why You Should Outline Your Novel [Video]

There are two types of writers, there are those who take time before they start writing to outline their work, and then there are those that just get right to it.

For the longest time, I thought I was in the latter camp. I would start writing and then, through the majesty of imagination, my story will end up exactly where I intended it to end up.

That was rarely the case, most often I meander from scene to scene without a clear focus, guiding myself to an often unsatisfying climaxing and a lackluster conclusion.

In my more youthful years, I had all the free time in the world to write. I would pull all-nighters just for fun. Yes, fun! I would write all day long. That luxury is so far in the past that it now feels like someone else’s life. I don’t have a whole day to write anymore and the idea of staying up all night for fun is laughable.

As a content writer, it is important that my time is used wisely in the office. I have only a certain amount of time to produce a piece of content worthy of being published. It is not a creative feat, but it is an exercise in efficiency.

If you know what you are doing at the very early stages, if you know where you are going, you can start mapping out your day a bit better. An outline is an essential piece in accomplishing that. I can’t imagine writing a blog post without some sort of outline (albeit, I did not outline this one), and now, I can’t imagine doing the same for a novel with multiple parts.

I have so many abandoned, half written pieces of work from short stories to novel length manuscripts. I blame my haste to write and my neglect to outline for those unfinished works.

So here is to a new me, going forward, I am most certainly going to outline my work, especially one as epic. I give myself the permission to diverge from the outline should I see fit, but in order to keep myself on schedule and focused on the job at hand, I need to be organized.

Start with the outline or at least have a clear direction. If I did, I might have written my second or third book in the series by now. Or… I might not have started the first one at all. It’s hard to look back and say, but going forward, this is what I’ll do first. Outline.  

Check out my YouTube channel for more on my novel writing journey.

How to Write a Good First Sentence? [Video]

 

 

“When technology fell, the catastrophe threatened human existence.”

That is the first sentence of my epic trilogy. It won’t be forever, but it has been for a while now. It’s not great. There are many areas to improve.

But during the first draft, I wanted to simply get my idea on paper. The first sentence, if I over thought it, could have caused me to hesitate enough that I wouldn’t even start. In the beginning, I wouldn’t worry about the quality of the first sentence, I simply needed to start.

However, during the editing phase that is where I can go back, look at the first sentence and ask myself: is this a good first impression for my readers?

In this episode of The Other Epic Story Vlog, I took a look at the first line writing resources and examples from classic and contemporary works. Then I returned to my attempt at a first sentence and gave it my best crack.

I wanted to dig deeper. The words like “technology,” “catastrophe,” and “threatened” in my mind, were all weak, vague words. The kind of words a writer chooses to use when he or she is just kicking off. It’s a tell, not show sentence. I could do better.

“The last message sent digitally was to let everyone beyond the border know that there was still hope.”

This above is my updated first sentence. It encapsulates the same idea. The fallout of technology and the realization of our dependency upon it. I feel it has a bit more umph!

There are many sentences in a novel, but if my work is ever to be a classic, attention to the first one is important. So there it is… now onto the next one.  

 

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