Choosing Your Setting

"A story is in its setting because it could be nowhere else," award-winning mystery author Susan Dunlap often tells aspiring writers.

Sometimes the "nowhere else" is clear from the outset. An intriguing place triggers your imagination, providing the flour idea. Hiking up a rocky trail into a box canyon or driving past a Victorian mansion that is falling to ruin, you realize there must be a story here. Characters might stroll into your mind with their locales firmly attached. You know from the outset that she does social work in a Miami ghetto, that he herds cattle on a Montana ranch, that she attends school in an upscale suburban neighborhood, that he is a manager who pushes paper in a corporate high-rise, that she is a cop who walks a gritty city beat.

At other times you may need to think hard to figure out just where your story's "nowhere else" could be. You have a premise and a character or two, but they won't come alive because you haven't found the right place to put them. How do you know where they belong?

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