The 7 Keys to Writing Professional Settings

How about we shake things up a smidgen?

In the interest of naked truth and integrity: I’m sharing this post for two reasons, (1) to provide fellow working writers with vital writing knowledge to help them with their own burgeoning journeys, and (2) to earn more hits and boost my blog situation with the big boys at the Search Engine Department, in the hope of continuing my slow steady journey up the writing ladder.

As writers, you are smart enough to know why setting is crucial to a novel, so let’s skip the usual throat-clearing. The 7 Keys to crafting masterful settings are as follows:

  1. Where
  2. When
  3. Who
  4. Details
  5. Changes
  6. Mood
  7. History

Okay, let’s ‘elucidate’. (Hey, what’s the point in being a writer if you’re not going to flaunt your extensive vocabulary every once in a while? Have some fun!)

WHERE: Obviously your readers need to know where your scene is taking place. Is it on top of a mountain or in a cozy little kitchen? If it’s a familiar place (as in, you’ve already described it earlier in the narrative) then simply mention it in passing to situate the reader in the kitchen again, maybe add a peripheral detail overlooked earlier if it is relevant to this particular scene—as in, creepy Uncle Jethro has been corpsified and is now occupying 12 square feet of floor space with a pool of tacky blood reflecting the spider-webbed ceiling.

WHEN: Less obviously, your readers need to know the time of day and year in which the setting is being seen. Seasons and lighting affect mood and physical settings. In summer, doors swell and get stuck. In winter, drafts come barging through houses, unexpectedly and effectively adding nuance to setting. What time of day is it? Sunlight and streetlamps and living room shades throw different shadows across the setting, lending at times clarity or creepiness. If the setting is outside, the ‘time’ of year and day is even more important.

Temperature, humidity, wind, rain, snow, aromas and stenches are all profoundly important to establishing successful and memorable settings. These items all deeply affect the characters in the scene. If you don’t believe me, just check out Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series.

WHO: Speaking of the characters in the setting, it is important to clearly delineate all the players. Just as trees boasting brilliant autumnal foliage in the background lend color, so secondary characters are essentially backdrop to any setting; a part of it if only apart from it. Seemingly unimportant Joe Blow lurking in the shadows or hiding in the crowd may just be the as-yet unrevealed villain. And of course, the main characters occupying space in the setting are just as important as the physical location and/or weather. A riveting character can reveal as much about your MC as can your MC’s response to any particular setting.

SMALL DETAILS: The devil is in the details—especially if they’re possessed. Read masters like Mervyn Peake, J.K. Rowling and Anne Rice to appreciate how small details can easily elevate settings from hum-drum fiction to eye-popping realism. Such detail can suspend reader disbelief.

BEWARE the dreaded static description of lesser fantasists. Here’s an example of a static description of a setting, as written by a self-published writer:

The lush, planted areas of the compound were lavishly appointed. The beachside pool deck’s verdant landscaping was circled with the flicker of tiki torches – placed there for the big event that was just getting underway. An eighteen-piece mariachi band in full regalia had assembled by the massive palapa over the hotel-sized outdoor pool bar.’

Notice how, at first it seems like we have detail, but a closer reading reveals that nothing is actually described in detail. The writer employs vague adjectives and thinks this conveys detail, when in reality all it displays is a lack of imagination and overuse of a pet thesaurus. Also, nothing is active. His writing uses dead adverbs and bleeds barefaced clichés. We can see the setting, sure, but it is static.

The following is a description written by a master of the English language, Mervyn Peake, from his ‘lavish’ Gormenghast series. Here he describes the Hall of Bright Carvings:

Standing immobile throughout the day, these vivid objects, with their fantastic shadows on the wall behind them shifting and elongating hour by hour with the sun’s rotation, exuded a kind of darkness for all their colour. The air between them was turgid with contempt and jealousy. The craftsmen stood about like beggars, their families clustered in silent groups. They were uncouth and prematurely aged. All radiance gone.’

Notice how Peake’s adjectives and adverbs pop. They aren’t simply thrown in there, but are placed expertly within to lend mood to the setting. Even the air seems alive—with jealousy. Notice also how Peake masterfully illustrates the effects of the sun, so that the setting changes, and observe how he incorporates secondary characters as scene props, who supplement the sun and shadows and darkness in developing a tone for the scene.

In the first example everything is stationary, observed at a distance. In Peake’s passage everything is alive and part of the world; you can almost feel the atmosphere, smell the dust, the sweat of the craftsmen standing like beggars, as if you are right there in the setting. Continue reading “The 7 Keys to Writing Professional Settings”

How to Turn Your Book Ideas into Money in the Bank, Step 7: Marketing

Welcome back to our Turning Book Ideas into Money series! So far we have covered:


Now it is time to market your brilliant book idea. Simply publishing it isn’t going to win you more than a few downloads, maybe enough to pay your monthly coffee bill. Fortunately there are many ways to promote your baby. For this post we’re going to focus on AMS Ad Campaigns.

So, you’ve earned a breather. Take a moment to congratulate yourself.

Okay, lazybones, it’s time to get back to work. What do you want, an award?

As soon as (or before) you hit that Publish button, it is time to set up an Amazon Ad Campaign. This is a low-cost tool Amazon has set up for self-publishers, and it is a must-do task for all writers who wish to sell more than a few copies of their books. It is fairly simple to set up, though you will be spending a lot of time collecting keywords.


If you’ve purchased the guidebook on which this series is based—Take it to the Bank—or if you’ve been following these posts, then you have already learned a lot. People lay down fat stacks to learn how to do some of what you have learned on your long journey to publication. Many other guidebooks go into greater detail for you, but they tend to steer you toward steps that will drain your bank account. Take it to the Bank is designed for frugal new writers.

STEPS TO MARKETING YOUR E-BOOK Continue reading “How to Turn Your Book Ideas into Money in the Bank, Step 7: Marketing”

How to Turn Your Book Ideas into Money in the Bank, Step 5: Editing and Revising

Welcome back to our journey from Book Idea to Money in the Bank! So far we have covered:

  1. The vital (and exciting) Step of fantasizing your idea into life inside your mind
  2. The importance of outlining your idea and everything you need to include in that outline
  3. The actual act of writing in all its glorious detail
  4. The soundtrack to your writing, used to elevate your scenes from hum-drum to enthralling

So today let’s explore the crucial Step of editing and revising.

A tip before we get into the nitty-gritty of editing and revising: Once you have completed your bold beautiful idea, it is time to edit that bugger. Right?


If you start editing the day after you finish typing THE END in your manuscript, you set yourself up for failure. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Avoid some amateur bad marks against your writing by taking the advice I wish I had taken when I was starting out as a young, wet-behind-the-ears, totally pumped, and ready to go writer: Set your first draft aside for at least 4 to 6 weeks and work on something else.

The point of this is to give yourself distance from your created world, so that when you return to it for the crucial execution of revising and editing, it will be with fresh eyes and an open mind.

We have a tendency to view our recently completed books as works of art. We sit back, stretch our arms, crack our knuckles and declare, like Ralphy in A Christmas Story as he’s reading his essay, ‘Wow, that’s great.’

Wow, that’s great!

 Following a healthy span of time away, we’ll come back to look at the same manuscript as a work in progress. It has a fine solid foundation, but is in dire need of polishing.


Many ‘How to’ writing guides and sites will advise you to send the first draft of your manuscript out to a ‘professional’ editor.


This is another mistake. Not only will it cost you hundreds of dollars, but you’ll be missing out on a key learning point in the development of your writing career. (Some ‘professional’ editors even charge by the hour!)

Since I created Take it to the Bank for frugal-minded writers, we will not send it out, but instead do the work of editing it ourselves. With each manuscript we will improve our skills and become professionals.

Grammar and punctuation and other items of import will reveal themselves to your fresh eyes and open mind; pacing and voice, which are almost impossible to detect while writing, will appear as glaring structural weaknesses. You’ll notice all the plot holes that slipped past your attention while you were cruising through your manuscript. Too many hollow adjectives and excessive attributives will stand out as the embellishments of an amateur.

All of these negative elements can be easily fixed, now that you notice them. Continue reading “How to Turn Your Book Ideas into Money in the Bank, Step 5: Editing and Revising”