Tips on using locations effectively in your novel

Unless your characters are floating around in nothingness (and this has been done), you’re going to have to think about settings and locations. Some writers do detailed, cinematic descriptions that paint vivid pictures of their characters’ surroundings, while others use broad brushstrokes and allow the readers’ imagination to fill in the gaps.
Either is fine, but you want to make sure you’re using location to its full advantage. Descriptions of locations are a great opportunity to develop plot and character and set atmosphere and mood.

Environment shapes character

The location will directly affect the personality and behaviour of the characters – for example a black woman in the Deep South in colonial times is going to behave very differently from one in an ancient matriarchy in the amazon, which will be different again to one in a dystopian future.

Locations symbolize themes

A location can also symbolize the theme. If the theme is loss, the location could be stark and hollow – whether it’s the Scottish highlands or a grey city. If the theme is motherly love, the location might be an old mansion that protects against the elements, even as it is neglected, or an artificially intelligent spaceship that advises its crew against their own follies.

Elements can increase tension

Good writing is all about conflict and tension, so you should think about how the setting could impact on that. Clifftop settings beside stormy seas are popular for adding genuine danger to the characters’ personal turmoil, of there could be wild animals in the jungle, a submarine with a leak, a volcano just on the horizon, threatening to erupt.

Settings provide drama

Think about what dramatic events happen in that location that could provide a climactic setting for the final scene in your novel. Good stories generally increase in tension, velocity and size towards their climax, and it’s good if you can find a setting that reflects that. Large crowds and extreme weather conditions are both good options for this.

Everything changes

A final useful technique is to revisit the same location at the beginning and end of the novel in order to show change, which reflects the protagonists personal growth or destruction. The park that was once filled with laughing children is now overgrown with weeds and rust (or vice versa), the brand new ship is dashed to splinters, the abandoned house is restored to its former glory.

Thanks to Gail Gaymer Martin for the inspiration for this post, which you can read here: