Amazing Hack for Writing the Setting of a Story

There’s no way around it. Writing a children’s novel takes time. I know writer friends and writing challenges that boast they can whip out a picture book in one day. Not so with a children’s novel. The setting of the story. The plot. The characters. The shortest time frame most people can claim for writing a middle grade or young adult novel from start to finish is in one month of focused, fast-paced, and often frenzied writing.

I remember when I was under contract to write a four-book historical fiction middle grade novel series. The setting for those books took place in an era and place I’m not familiar with, so the writing pace was slow. With the intense daily research required for the setting (place and time period) alone, I was able to maintain a schedule of completing one chapter per week with the first book being completed in one year. Ugh.

The Setting: It’s All About Place

I can already hear your groans and moans of empathy if you’re a fellow middle grade or young adult novel writer, too. The setting! The zillion tiny details that are necessary to make our novel become real—and ruin it if riddled with mistakes. The setting becomes the heavy millstone around our necks, dragging us to the depths of a bottomless sea, threatening to drown our love for writing novels and tempting us to quit writing altogether.

If you’re feeling like you’re drowning in your novel, I’m tossing out a lifesaver to you today. Grab hold! This lifesaver will lift you up to the surface where the sun is shining on the playful waves and you can swim confidently and joyfully toward shore. This lifesaver will help you write novel after novel at a much faster pace, completing more novels than you ever thought possible, and allowing you to practice and polish various key writing skills on your way to experiencing success.

Hot Hack: Choose a NO RESEARCH Setting

Writing a novel with a NO-RESEARCH setting frees up your time from in-depth setting research. Writing a novel with a NO-RESEARCH setting lets you focus on honing your skills such as character development or plot structure. It allows you to focus on learning how to write for different genres such as humor or mystery or science fiction. Choosing a NO-RESEARCH setting allows you the freedom to write quickly and efficiently without getting bogged down by researching countless historical facts.

Just what exactly is a NO-RESEARCH setting? It’s a setting you don’t have to research because you already know it inside and out. It could be the hometown where you were born or grew up. It could be a place you’ve visited enough to know well. It could be the home of a family member or friend. It could be your current neighborhood. Or, it could be a place you thoroughly researched already.

The benefits of choosing a no-research setting for your novel are many. You already know the idioms, or unique speech patterns of the area and the era. You know the local plants, the seasons, and the weather patterns. You know the unique names of the stores and the names of the surrounding areas. And best of all, you know the personalities of the unique type of people who live there and all their idiosyncrasies. You know all this information already when you choose a no-research setting for your novel and you can plug it into your story without taking extra hours, days, weeks, and months away from your writing to learn about it.

Cover image for "Writing the Setting"--picture of apple orchard

Top Tips on Choosing Your Setting

To choose the no-research setting for your story, you want to pick somewhere you know well, but you also want to choose a place and era that has elements of fantastic kid-appeal. For example, at first glance, the family farm where I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s didn’t seem that interesting, but it was a place I knew very, very well. I wanted to try to use it. So I brainstormed this setting for potential kid appeal. What I discovered surprised me!

On my family farm, there is an old forgotten graveyard from the 1800s with rotting tombstones. There’s a creepy old basement from a burned-out pioneer home that still holds broken pottery treasures to unearth. There are rock piles the size of coffins that growing up I believed were Indian graves. As kids, we found Indian arrowheads and fossilized seashells up at the top of the ridge behind our barn. We hiked down an overgrown trail on our farm that had been used by the Iroquois before European settlers ever set foot in America. Talk about kid appeal!

Since that brainstorming session, I have written two middle grade novels using my family farm as the setting. (CLICK HERE to check out my self-published MG novel!) For the first novel, I focused on crafting a tight plot structure with set-up, conflicting middle, and resolution. For the second novel I focused on character development. Each of those novels took me one month to write from start to finish because I knew everything about my setting before I even started to write.

Right now I’m working on another middle grade novel. For this one, I’m practicing learning how to write humor. Once again, I chose a no-research setting. It allows me to focus on the skills I want to learn rather than getting bogged down by all those setting details, details, details that require research, research, research!

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed with researching the countless details needed in a setting you’re not familiar with, start a new project instead. This time, choose a no-research setting! Focus on other details instead. You’ll be amazed at the results.

What could be your go-to NO-RESEARCH settings you know best of all? Share with us your favorite places…you just might put one of them into your next book!

-Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning children’s author of over 100 books including the ground-breaking book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. For more information about Nancy and her books, CLICK HERE to visit her website.

Bridge image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

Apple orchard Image by lumix2004 from Pixabay

Train Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Amazing Hack for Writing the Setting of a Story

  1. Yes, the family farm sounds fun and fascinating–for kids and adults! Hmm…my no research setting would be the southeastern states, preferably in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 🙂

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