To Be Detailed or Vague: That Is The Question

Setting Spencer Park fog Sioux Falls South Dakota

Everyone who writes a book needs to decide on its setting.

A book’s setting is used to identify and establish the time, place and mood of the events in the story. Basically it’s the where, when and under what circumstances the story is taking place.

So, the pressing questions are:

  1. Do you use a location that actually exists?
  2. If not, do you create a whole new world from scratch?
  3. Will your story take place in the past, present or future?

No matter what your answer is to those questions you will need to decide the following:

  • Just how detailed or vague you want to be with your setting/location
  • What feeling you want your setting to evoke in your story

In my case I chose to use a location that already exists and to place it in present time. The kicker being that I’ve never actually been there, ever. Therefore I had 4 options:

  1. Go there and document what I see. Scout out locations and details I want to add to the story.
  2. Research it in travel books and websites. Also check out the city data info online.
  3. Use YouTube to find any and all videos that pertain to or have been shot at that location.
  4. Do a little bit of all three. Read up and research the city to see if it will fit into the story I have planned, check out any videos that might be floating online about it so that I can pick a few key locations and then finally taking a quick weekend trip (if I’m able to) to see it first hand and to be able to describe the details that are missed when reading about or watching a video (like sounds and smells of a location).

I made a rookie mistake. I didn’t choose any of those options. Yes, I knew better.

I decided on an actual city where I’ve placed my characters in different locations through out it all while trying to be somewhat vague about it.

I did look up the city info on the internet and took a look at some pictures of the city but that’s the extent of my “research”. God, I was so stupid!

I was watching one of my favorite shows with my daughter the other night when my daughter says, “Hey Mom, aren’t they at the city you write about in your book?” I looked at her, a little confused because (1) I hadn’t caught on yet that that was truly the case and (2) This town I was seeing was completely different then how I thought it was and how I wrote it.

I couldn’t tell you what happened during the rest of that episode. I was busy wallowing in dread and fear.

I was finally getting somewhere with my revisions and now I was looking at having to revise every chapter that talked about the location! My stomach was in knots and my brain hurt just thinking about it.

Learn from my mistakes folks. No matter how vague you think your going to be about a location, do everything you possible can to find out all it’s little details. Trust me. It’s better to get all the leg work out of the way in the beginning rather then having to go back and fix it all when you realized you had the location and its people all wrong.

So the questions now are:

  • Do I write the story like the locals are going to read this book?
  • Do I go even more vague with my setting descriptions so that I don’t have to waste more time revising?
  • Do I take the time to truly learn about this location (what I should have done in the beginning) and write it as accurately as possible so that not only am I proud about it but if a local does happen to read my book they’ll smile thinking to themselves, “Hey I know that place!” or “Man, this author did their homework.”

As you might have guessed I chose to go back and take my time and get it right. In doing so I think I might have found an event that would coincide with my story, adding a nice little plot twist.

However, If I had just followed my own advice and stuck with my comprehensive research plan that I talked about in 35 Links To Help You Research Your Novel I wouldn’t be in this mess!

Oh well, live and learn… hopefully.

Some new ideas I have on researching locations and setting are:

  • Check Youtube videos for anything pertaining to your location.
  • Check Flickr for photos of the area, area attractions, and landmarks.
  • Use your social media network. Send out a message stating you are writing a story about {enter city and state} and tell them that any and all info would be welcomed and appreciated.
  • Call the local tourist office. It’s their job to answer any questions you might have of their city.
  • Check the local Real Estate listings to see the style of houses in the area and to even window shop your characters home.
  • Do a Google search for “Library research guides ________”
  • Look to see if there are other fiction books in your genre or outside that have already used your location.


Published by Darla G. Denton, Writer

I am a Contemporary Romance Writer for Curvy women and the men who love them.

4 thoughts on “To Be Detailed or Vague: That Is The Question

  1. Good tips 😀

    I do enjoy research so I usually go a bit OTT on it. But in general I do try and use places that aren’t real, then I don’t have as much pressure to make sure and get it right, especially if I’ve never been there!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: