I’m really big on setting. I don’t like to go on for paragraph after paragraph describing a setting, but I do like to paint the telling details that will ground the characters and action in a place. And one of my favorite ways to get the setting right is to actually be in that setting as I’m writing about it.
For Airball, I wrote in the bleachers during my son’s basketball practice and at my smalltown diner during lunch. Recently I began writing a scene set in a university’s student union. Now, I’ve been to college. And I still visit the union at KU from time to time (we have to buy our Jayhawk apparel somewhere, plus they have a really terrific bookstore and coffee shop). But as I tried to write this scene, I had a hard time coming up with those details that would bring the setting alive. So I packed up my laptop and drove over to Lawrence (I’m lucky I only live 20 minutes away), bought a latte and settled in among the students in the union to write.
And wow, was I glad I did. Not only was I able to capture a setting that had been eluding me at home, one element of that setting—the flatscreen TVs mounted high on the walls—gave me a great idea for some action in a scene that could have been too introspective. The TVs also gave me a way to pass important story facts to the character—and readers—without resorting to a (boring) narrative information dump. Plus hanging out in the union with college students is a whole lot more fun than hanging out at my house with the laundry and the dishes.