Fix Your Story By Focusing on Place

place in fiction

About a year ago, I formed a small writing group that meets every month to discuss each other’s works-in-progress. One of the group members reliably asks, for nearly every piece, questions about the setting. Oftentimes, even if the piece is fairly clear about where the action is taking place, there is missing context or grounding detail about the environment.

Hearing those questions frequently has, of course, sparked me to ask them pre-emptively when crafting my own work—to take the setting more seriously as a character in and of itself.

I was reminded of this recently when reading Marian Crotty’s piece for Glimmer Train, Committing to Place. She writes:

For beginning fiction writers, focusing on place is one of the easiest ways to improve stories that aren’t quite working. Doing so requires almost no imagination—simply looking closely, paying attention, mining your memory and/or conducting research. Paying attention to place, though, often addresses many of the common problems that plague the early stories of beginning writers—lack of detail and specificity, unrealistic characters and situations, and reliance on factual information that taxes readers instead of creating a sharp, sensory world that can simply be experienced.

Read Crotty’s entire piece.

Also this month in Glimmer Train:

Posted in Writing Advice.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thonie Hevron

The setting should be treated as a character as it has a lot of the same characteristics: distinct smell, mood or atmosphere, temperature/temperament, and flavor (?). Leaving Hannibal Lechter out of this, flavor could be interpreted as sweet/sour, mild or spicy. Just sayin’.

Kathryn Orzech

Thanks Jane for calling attention to story setting and Marian Crotty’s post on Glimmer Train. I couldn’t agree more. Though my mystery thrillers are based in familiar New England, I love sending characters–and readers–to exotic locations: an ancient souk in Morocco, the twisting cobblestone streets of Prague, an archaeological dig in Egypt. Setting can add suspense before the story begins and answers that first question, Where am I?

[…] not quite right with your story? Jane Friedman suggests fixing your story by focusing on place, and Ellen Tanner Marsh clarifies the 5 most common mistakes that bog down your […]