How to use setting in your fiction writing - Authors A.I.

Alessandra Torre
December 3, 2020

Location is everything, as the saying goes. But is this true in your novel? On our most recent First Draft Friday, we invited bestselling author Maria Luis onto the set to talk about how to use setting in your novel.

Maria has a colorful history. Before becoming a novelist, she wrote scripts for tour companies in New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and more. She’s used to interweaving history and locations into her storytelling and was the perfect guide to take us down this path.

Keep reading to see a summary of her main points about the importance of location, or go straight to the good stuff and watch the following video.

Creating a location — should it be fictional or real?

As authors, we’re used to creating fictional worlds and characters. But should our locations be the same?

There are some positives to using a real-life location. A romance set in Paris immediately gives the reader a feel for that book. Other readers may gravitate toward or hunt for books set in a certain locale. They enjoy having stories rooted in settings and cultures they are familiar with, have visited or lived in.

But fictional towns can give you some creative freedoms. Maybe you want to write a Christmas story in a town that celebrates the holidays 365 days a year. Or you need an island with an abandoned city on it. Creating your own town allows you to alter the weather, layout, culture and location to fit your exact story needs.

Whether you create your own location or use an actual one, research is still key to bringing your location to life. Maria suggests Google Street View as a way to walk through a town you’ve never visited. Creating a fictional town? Find a real-life location as a muse, then tweak it to fit your needs. Draw a map of the town, so you can be consistent in your descriptions and delivery. And take the history of the town into account as you describe the architecture, layout and feel. 

Once in the story, use your characters to remind readers of the setting with sound, tastes and feels. The crunch of snow beneath your boots as your hero steps onto the cobblestoned road. The smell of barbecue drifting from an open doorway of a restaurant in Texas. The sound of roosters crowing on a Key West street. It doesn’t take much to breathe life into your location and use it as a strong element in your storytelling. 

See the video embedded above for all of Maria’s suggestions during this information-packed half hour!

If you’re interested in watching more author chats, please visit our First Draft Friday page. And, if you’re ready to see Maria’s use of location for yourself, visit to see her full list of books.


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