Tag Archives: writing tips

Writing (& Teaching) Setting-specific Story Details

If you’re a writer and/or teacher, you may be feeling the MUF-love emanating from your screen right now. That’s because today’s post about writing using setting-specific details is in your honor. Yep, it’s all for you. And for your readers. And for your students. And maybe even for your labradoodle named Cocoa who was briefly abducted by aliens and now spends his days pawing at a MacBook, composing original similes.

As a writer and a teacher, I love to explore and teach about the gloriously complex world of writing. I’m always learning something new and trying to improve my own writing craft. That’s what made me decide it was time to revisit my teaching roots and share something I’ve been working on in my own writing. And I brought J. K. Rowling along to help!

(Well, okay, that J. K. Rowling thing may almost, maybe, kind of be a lie. But I use a brief excerpt from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And I allow my voice to climb toward falsetto as I do a very poor imitation of Professor McGonagall. So it’s pretty much like J. K. Rowling personally created this MUF post. Except she really didn’t. But I still couldn’t have done it without her.)

Anyway, enough parenthetical rambling! For today’s post you don’t need to do much reading. Instead, you can kick back with your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (or other favorite beverage), click the video below, and spend 3 minutes learning how setting-specific details strengthen a story and make it more believable.

If you’re a writer, I hope the video will give you something to think about in your own writing. If you’re a teacher, maybe you can use the video as a springboard to a writing lesson with your students. And if you’re neither a writer nor a teacher? . . . Well, maybe Cocoa the labradoodle will enjoy the brief respite from composing all of those similes.

Writing & Creating Story Setting with Specific Details

Have any favorite books or series where the author brings the setting alive? Any great examples of rich, setting-specific details from a book you’ve read? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has a 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course available at Curious.com.

Oh, the Drama! Novel Writing from a Playwright’s Perspective


Images are from a recent production of Peter Pan which I directed, but unfortunately, did not write.

As a director and resident playwright at my local children’s theater, I came into novel writing from a script writer’s background. There are drawbacks of coming from the stage to the page. But there are benefits, too. I think the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning apply to writers from all backgrounds, and I look forward to reading how you deal with these areas when writing.


Seeing the Scene: “Could we have a little more description of this location?” My editor wrote this several *cough* times in my first novel manuscript. I call it the plague of the playwright: I “see” all my scenes as if they’re on stage or in a movie, often forgetting the reader can’t see them as well. I’ve had to make conscience decisions to describe “the set” of each scene, realizing that setting is what grounds the reader in the character’s world. This usually happens during the second draft.

Disoriented: “Orientation.” That’s another comment that occasionally still pops up in edits. Related to the first pitfall, in a script, I’d put the character’s position and movement on the set in parenthetical stage notes. I see it in my head when I write, but have to remember to help the reader see it by describing it for them.

Lost in Transition: As a director, I’m used to beginning and ending scenes via light cues and curtains. But that won’t work in fiction. It doesn’t always take much, just showing the passage of time or giving a character some internal dialogue (another thing it’s easy for this playwright to forget to include), but it’s the difference between a confused reader and one who can suspend disbelief.


PP2 (1)What’s That You Say? Dialogue is probably the playwright’s number one vehicle, and most of my first drafts consist of the characters talking. If I’m writing a script, I will often hand a copy to my husband so I can hear how a scene sounds aloud in comparison to how it sounded in my head. A strong internal ear is valuable for a novelist, but when in doubt, read it out!

Hands Free: I recently saw a contest for a short story written entirely in dialogue-no tags allowed. If I weren’t working on other projects, I’d probably enter for the fun of it. Body and dialogue tags aren’t a bad thing, and I use them often, but they can clunk up an otherwise snappy conversation. Playwrights have to rely solely on words in a script and let the actors fill in the rest. I think a stretch of dialogue without any tags gives the reader a chance to connect with the characters in a deeper way, utilizing the imagination to fill in the blanks. Jane Austen was a master of this. A conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

“Of what are you talking?”

“Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say he will not have Lizzy.”

“And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems a hopeless business.”

“Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her you insist upon her marrying him.”

“Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.”

Now, I would have been tempted to at least used one physical description of Mrs. Bennet flailing about or pulling at her cap, but Jane trusts that she’s painted the characters well enough for us to see it all in the theater of our minds. Also noteworthy is that she doesn’t use a single exclamation point.

I’m Hearing Voices: Nobody wants to see a play with characters who sound like echoes of each other, and the same holds true in fiction. I like to give characters varying sentence construction and one or two key words or phrases that they say without thinking, especially in conversations.

PP3It’s All About the Timing: There’s no time for lags in action or dialogue in theater. If you’ve ever been to a play with a seemingly eternal scene change or worse, where an actor forgets lines, you know how it pulls you out of the show. Pacing is priority in fiction, too. Varying sentence structure, giving readers time to “breathe” after intense scenes, and knowing how to end a chapter with a page turner will all keep your audience fully invested in your characters’ journeys.

I’d love to hear from other script writers on how you make the transition from script or screenplay to story, and from anyone else who has insight on how to improve a novel’s setting, orientation, and transitions.

LGBioPicture copyIn addition to writing, directing, and occasionally acting in plays and musicals, Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill). She resides in Kansas with her large family and a noisy parrot, who supply plenty of comedy and drama. 




To Write or Not to Write, That Is the Question

For the record, I am a very brave man. This is not just because I floss before bedtime and sometimes intentionally consume leafy green vegetables. No, it’s much more than that. My bravery blossoms from a single, bold writerly act. Some would call it courageous. Others daring or even heroic.

I would call it quitting.

Yes, after writing the first page of a story, I stopped. Totally up and abandoned the manuscript. Then, with equal doses of valor and cold-blooded resolve, I started to . . .


[Cue gasps, groans, and eerie music.]

I am not an outliner. Every other story I’ve ever written has been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants affair. At some point in the writing process I might skip ahead and write the ending to help guide the middle of my story, but planning each scene from the get-go? . . . Are you kidding me?!?!?!

Here’s a list of six things that made me change my ways (at least this one time):

  1. My last 50,000-word story underwent a ton of drafts, a couple with super-major plot revisions that required loads of rewriting as I uncovered new elements of my story on the fly. I liked the final results, but the process of getting there was painful. By creating a bare-bones outline for my newest story (a few sentences per chapter), I uncovered some surprises for myself before I had an entire plot to go back and overhaul.
  2. Revising a few sentences is easier than revamping a 50,000-word manuscript.
  3. I’m a slow writer. I’m an even slower reviser. Less time revising = more time writing.
  4. For a plot to push forward, I know every scene needs conflict and/or suspense to keep the reader engaged. By outlining, I ensured that each chapter was built around some form of tension, which provides the fuel for my story’s problem to keep chugging along on the road to the resolution.
  5. The outline also helped me look at the big picture of the story’s plot, making sure that the overall level of tension steadily increased scene-to-scene, pushing toward the resolution and climax.
  6. I figured outlining is like Brussels sprouts—it might not be that enjoyable at the time, but it’ll probably be good for me in the end.

My outlined story? It’s moving right along and feels way easier to write than anything I’ve ever written before. Will my plot change from my original outline as I progress? Undoubtedly. But it’s sure been nice to have a basic roadmap for the writing journey ahead.

Want a bit more perspective? MUFs own Linda Johns presented “The Case for Outlining” a few months back. Or do you have your own outlining versus seat-of-the-pants-writing viewpoint to share? Post your comments below.

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.