Bringing Settings to Life

The setting of a story can either make or break a book for me.  A book may have great characters and a great premise, but if the settings are underwhelming or even overwhelming, it’s too easy for me to get pulled out of the story.  There’s a fine line an author must walk when establishing the setting, and if it’s done well, it makes the story that much more memorable.

Hogwarts.  Camp Half Blood.  Red London.  Glendower.  All these settings, as varied and unique as they are, are almost their own characters, full of life and intricacies and details that make you feel as if you’re really there.  Each of these places is truly their own place; they’re not your typical summer camp or forest or city, they’ve been transformed into these fantastical places that set the tone for the story and provide a unique place for the characters to interact and change.

The importance of having a realistic setting cannot be overstated.  The problem that a lot of writers—myself included—have with settings is that we are somewhat limited to writing what we know.  Maybe we want to set our story in a military boot camp, and while we can talk to soldiers and do online research, there are tons of tiny details that we could never fully understand unless we went there ourselves.  There are countless places that we may never have—or never want to have—the opportunity to visit: refugee camps, prison cells, juvenile detention centers, penthouse suites, black-tie events, recording studios, etc. Even if we do find ourselves able to observe these places, the things that we notice, the sounds and colors and general feelings, may be very different from what another person observes.

So how do we write about these places?  How do we include details and scenery that rings true to a wide range of readers?

That’s where The Urban Setting Thesaurus comes in.  

I’ve been a fan of Angela and Becca’s thesauruses since the beginning.  They’ve helped my characters come to life and given them true depth and personality, which has made my writing infinitely better.  These books are well researched, varied, and easy to use.  Every entry has something interesting to offer, and I’ve found myself coming back to these books again and again as I write.  The tips and tricks and general advice are helpful, too, as are the worksheets at the end of every book that help emphasize the instruction presented in the book in a way that will actually benefit your story.

The newest set of thesauruses from these two wonderful ladies are no exception.  While I’ve only looked at The Urban Setting Thesaurus, it’s easy to see that this new resource lives up to its predecessors.  There are more than 100 entries for various venues, events, and transports that are commonly encountered in a city, and each entry includes a variety of sensory details about that particular location.  Each entry also has a list of possible sources of conflict, which can be quite helpful for keeping the plot moving, as well as general notes about that setting and a sample description.  It’s the same type of set-up that this duo has used before, but it totally works.

And if that weren’t enough, there are a handful of articles at the very beginning that provide a lot of useful information on emphasizing the setting as more than just a backdrop.  These pieces discuss how the setting can be used to create emotional cues or to better characterize the various players in your story, whether that’s through sensory details or introducing backstory related to that specific location or to that type of location.  These articles are ones I will definitely be referring back to as I use this thesaurus more and more.

There are two of the usual worksheets at the end: a page to help you work out how setting can play into the emotions of your story and a checklist to help you determine if a particular setting truly fits with the scene you’re writing.  Although I haven’t used either of these yet, I can already see how these will help me as I work through my next short story.

Overall, The Urban Setting Thesaurus is another great resource from the minds behind Writers Helping Writers.  These two ladies have done a wonderful job of creating yet another unique, comprehensive thesaurus that will definitely be invaluable to any writer.  No longer are we restricted to writing what we know or trying to glean the truth from TV shows and movies about places we can never visit because we can simply find what we’re looking for in this book (or in its companion, The Rural Setting Thesaurus).  The entries themselves are fantastically useful, and the extra advice and information will help strengthen your writing even more.  Now there’s no excuse for having boring or unrealistic settings with the same old clichéd descriptions; just check out The Urban Setting Thesaurus and get writing!


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