Writing – How do you choose a setting?

Published August 21, 2012 by loonyliterature



English: Enid Blyton's former house "Old ...

English: Enid Blyton’s former house “Old Thatch” near Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


At the moment, I am writing a free in between story for our willblyton.com website.  It is called” Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys” and I’m being either brave or stupid as the work in progress is being posted.  The Will Blyton books are aimed at 9-12 year olds and explore time travel and will be introducing William Shakespeare and his plays in the books and free stories.


The setting for Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys is a children’s literary festival in 2006.  This probably seems like a strange place to set a children’s story but around that time my family were going to a lot of children’s literary festivals and seeing a very mixed bag of children’s writers. This was one of the reasons I felt the urge to set a children’s story at a fictional festival.  Seeing such a range of different approaches is truly entertaining and the festivals are worth attending if it is just for that and nothing else.


Some of the writers embrace the idea of talking about their books as if they secretly wanted to be rock stars but it never happened.  Others dress elegantly but timidly tell of how they were told that they were a children’s writer and not a science fiction writer.  The variation is endless but I must not forget the ones who made me want to rush for the nearest exit as I wondered if it was the effort of their writing which had left the lifeless slugs drawling before me.  Forgive me for sounding wicked with the last lot but you try sitting through a session with one of them and I bet you could teach me a thing or two on evil thoughts.


The second reason I wanted to write a story set at a fictional festival is that I have seen the effect literary festivals have on children and their reading.  My teenage son told me recently that he believes that going to literary festivals when younger definitely spurred him on to read more.  More than that, however, I have seen and heard the excitement of children wriggling in their seats whilst they wait for a favourite author to take the chair on the stage.  The atmosphere buzzes and the air is filled with energy – yes we are talking about author appearances not football stadiums or rock concerts.  Unfortunately, only a small percentage of children get to them because not enough parents and teachers realise what excellent value for money they are – going to children’s literary festivals is not a very well-known activity, more so in certain areas than others.  It seemed then to be a good idea to set a story at a festival and hopefully it might put the idea of going to a festival to the actual children themselves.


This only leaves me to ask “how do you choose your settings?  Is it a desire to be in a certain time and place, something which echoes theme and plot or do you choose settings because you think they are popular with readers and will sell more books?  I would love to know your thoughts.


10 comments on “Writing – How do you choose a setting?

  • Interested to know that attending literary festivals encourages young readers. Maybe schools should organise charabancs?

    As to settings for my own fiction, thinking back I reckon the plot and the setting come in a tightly-woven package: the one won’t work without the other. I’m a plot-driven writer though and always feel I shirk on description. Maybe I go around with my eyes half-shut. I know i tend to skip descriptive passages in books, unless they’re so superbly written that I’m forced to slow down and savour….

    • Hello Dorothy, nice to meet you. Do you think of the plot first and then you decide where and when you are going to set your work? Or do you imagine a place and think “oh yes – such and such could happen here?”

  • With me its a tightly woven, inter-linking blanket of all three. I’m very conscious that age range 8 to 12 would like to see the occasional exotic location in their novels – you are competing with video games and movies after all as a writer. Mainly, locations and quirky characters as well as interesting historical facts are writing prompts for me. Like Anne Rice I feel buildings and houses should be another character in the book. While I agree with Dorothy that lengthy descriptions can be a bit of a bore (think Tolkien), brief descriptions interwoven with dialogue for example can work really well and will draw the reader right in, especially when you’re using a historic setting like an ancient town, ship or monument.

    With my current novel: I wanted to write about witches (“real women” who were murdered on the grounds they were allegedly witches) and I looked around for an interesting location – so I found Wuerzburg in Germany, because of the notorious witch trials that had happened there. Another WIP: I wanted to write about pirates and YA lives in the 17th and 18th century, so I chose King’s Lynn as a setting – also because there is a lot of online information available with regard to coroners’ reports, shipping issues etc. For the next instalment I looked to Jamaica and combined the two locations, hence adding a little exotic spice into the mix.

    Bath children’s lit festival is coming up soon – are you going?

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