Make Your Story World Come Alive

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 | 2 comments

Make Your Story World Come Alive

One of the key elements to any work of fiction is the setting. Believable creation of the story world is every bit as important as the character creation, and in fact, the setting can often function very much like a character in the way it captivates and draws the reader in. The most important thing a writer can accomplish with their setting is to make the reader think they live there.


Wandering Wednesdays

My brain has been in Scotland for the last six years. My body lives in New Mexico, but my mind is lost in the mists of Loch Garry. And yes, when I’m alone, I listen to bagpipes and read with a Scottish accent. My debut novel is set in contemporary Scotland, so I’m not totally crazy.

I love research. The very things that keep me in the writing mode are the tools which can make my readers get into the story. A setting based in reality, streets you can walk down, geography that can be seen on a map, and food that makes your mouth water will draw your readers into the story.

Here are five tips to make your story world come alive:

  • Take a trip. Travel is pretty much a necessity, whether you’re writing historical or contemporary. It’s difficult to make a reader believe you’ve been there if you haven’t. A screen saver of photos is a powerful tool; I have over 400 in mine. Play music your character would listen to and watch the pictures. My Celtic playlist has 218 songs. Print some key photos, then sit and look at them and write down your impressions. Watch movies, read tour books, and check their weather reports.
  • Get to know your characters. To write convincingly, they must be real to you. Create Character Background Sheets with physical characteristics, likes and dislikes, hobbies, feelings, joys, and cares. Search for photos of people who look like what you envision, actors and magazines are great tools. What kind of distinctive mannerisms do they have? Become a people watcher. Pick a surname and research the family history for interesting details.
  • Understand the world your characters live in. Research customs, holidays, colloquialisms, schools, and churches. Where might they go for dinner and what kinds of food would be on the menu? Get a cookbook and try some traditional foods they might eat. How does it smell and taste? What political issues impact their lives, where might they go for fun?
  • Get advice from people familiar with your setting. Unless you live there, you need to find people who have and get their opinion on what you write. See if it rings true with someone who lives there.
  • Go for the small details. One of my memories from our trip to Scotland is having waiters ask if I wanted “still” water or “sparkling” water. At home I just request water. Find the details no one will know unless they have been there. It’s the little things that make the world you create seem real.

Whether you write historical or contemporary fiction, make accuracy your goal. If you do your research well, your readers will believe what you write. If they believe it, they will keep turning the pages and feel they have been there too.

I want them to hear the bagpipes.

About the author:

Norma - LoMD 2014Norma Gail’s debut contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, released in April 2014. She has led weekly women’s Bible studies for 20 years. Her devotionals and poetry have appeared at, the Stitches Thru Time blog, and in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, FaithWriters, Romance Writers of America, and the New Mexico Christian Novelists. Norma is a former RN who lives in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband of 39 years. They have two adult children.

Connect with Norma:


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  1. Great advice. thanks for sharing.

    • You’re very welcome! Thanks for taking time to comment!

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