Setting Source – Using Settings I Discovered During Travel to Enhance My Writing

Hi all,

I’ve been busy the last week working on a short story for an end-of-month deadline while I fight a dreaded cold (well, it IS that time of year in Australia). On top of this, I’ve continued to develop the outline for my next WIP, my middle grade novel. One key part of this is determining the most suitable settings for my story.

As mentioned in a previous post, Character Source, I spent time on my recent European trip researching possible settings for the parts of my story which take place on that continent. This setting made the short list – know where it is?

Okay, that doesn’t make it easy.


Here’s another pic:



Any idea? It’s really not that hard 🙂

Anyway, to get to my short list, I made another list, one of suitable criteria to consider before a setting was included. Or chopped. They were:

  • Location (obviously) – from broad particulars such as country, state, city/rural, etc. down to specifics such as streets, houses, schools, businesses, roads and landmarks.
  • Geography – including the climate, topography and ecosystems, and possible obstacles such as mountains, deserts and oceans. Man-made influences, such as graveyards and marketplaces, also provide extra authenticity.
  • Time – including time of day (down to the hour) and week, seasons, holiday periods, event anniversaries and commemorations. I also consider the length of time that has elapsed since the previous story setting, especially the effect this can have on characters (their age, mood, etc.)
  • Atmosphere – one of the main reasons I’ve short-listed the setting in the above photos is due to the mood I hope to create in this scene – scary with a sense of foreboding, due to its hidden dungeons and chambers (yep, another clue). Other influences on atmosphere include weather, lighting and temperature.
  • Population – from a desolate lonely place, to one bustling with people, animals and traffic (in which is it easier for a character to hide? Or attack?)
  • History – past events that took place in that location, including its ancestral past, which may be incorporated into my plot.
  • Social and Cultural – including the political climate of the location.

I need to be ruthless when deciding which settings will enhance my writing the most.

That is, they must all present conflicts or obstacles to be overcome.

They must all provide the POV character with an opportunity to grow or change.

And they must all provide the most suitable backdrop for revealing plot points and advancing the story.

All of the above criteria impacts how I (and readers) visualize a setting. Try comparing a tropical beach during a hot summer’s day to a deserted house on a cold Halloween night. The first is relaxing and fun; the second, not so much.

IMG_5098And then there’s utilizing all the senses. It’s all too easy to write what I’ve seen on my travels, but if the tunnel was dark, and the wind howled through its long corridor, and my hair brushed my face while trembling fingertips found their way along its coarse brick wall…

Anyway, you get my drift 🙂

So how do you decide on settings? Do you have a list of criteria (mine is by no means exhaustive)?

Would love to hear your thoughts,




Book Review: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Hi all,

“Damn, I wish I wrote this”, is the thought that usually comes to mind while reading books by one of my favourite Aussie authors, Melina Marchetta. On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road) is no exception.

Why has it taken me so long to read this book (first published more than a decade ago), when I absolutely loved Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, Melina’s two previous YA books?


At least now I have read it.

When I headed off to Europe a couple of months ago, I wanted to take something with me that oozed distinct #LoveOzYa flavour. On the Jellicoe Road fell into my lap a few days before I left, so I stuffed it in my bag and read it while cruising Welsh canals.


So what’s it all about?

Taylor Markham, a seventeen-year-old boarding school student at Jellicoe School in country New South Wales, was abandoned by her mother in a 7-Eleven restroom when she was eleven. At that time, a woman named Hannah began caring for her, but Taylor grows to suspect that Hannah hides knowledge about Taylor’s mother.

When Taylor was fourteen, a hermit whispered something in her ear (which she can’t remember – along with other pockets of her life) before he committed suicide in front of her. Taylor ran away to search for her mother and, on the way, met Jonah Griggs, a military school cadet who, she’s been told, killed his own father.

I love the dialogue when they met:

“Do you know when the next train to Yass is coming?” I had asked.

“Go to hell,” he said, but there was a desolate fear in his eyes and I couldn’t look away.

“Been there. Trust me. It’s so overrated.”

So Taylor opened up to him, but felt betrayed when he called an adult to come and collect them.

Now seventeen, Taylor has put up a wall to the world and is no longer willing to trust. By a weird political process, she finds herself chosen to lead the Jellicoe School kids in the next round of territorial wars between them and the cadets (with Jonah as their leader) and the townies, a group of students who live in town and whose leader has history with one of Taylor’s few true supporters.

Taylor must face Jonah again as enemies. To make things worse, Hannah, the constant in Taylor’s life and the one person she trusts, disappears.

While most of the story is told in Taylor’s first-person point of view, there are also snippets of another tale, told in third-person and concerning a group of kids brought together following a car accident which claimed the lives of some of their parents. The connection between the two stories is beautiful, but heart-breaking.

I won’t say any more – there is so much more I could – except that, after a surprisingly slow start, this story gathers momentum until, by the end, I nearly wept. So many small, seemingly insignificant, details connect in a beautiful tale of the power of family, love, and forgiveness. The characters are memorable, the writing fantastic, and the story completely moving, which only serves to reaffirm Melina’s place as one of Australia’s best YA authors in my eyes.

On Melina, I’ve referred to her in a previous post, when she wrote a great piece on the implications of the Productivity Commission’s proposed changes to intellectual property on the Australian publishing industry, Australian writers and readers. You can read it here:

Alibrandi, Francesca, You and the Productivity Commission

For more about Melina and her books, visit her website.

Now back to my own writing,