It’s taken me years longer (literally) than I planned to finish this book and get it published, but it’s finally available! The second part of the Memory’s Edge Duet completes the series!
Memory’s Edge Series
Most people only have one life-changing experience, but John and Gretchen are on round two of having their lives sent into utter chaos.
After a year of living with Gretchen after being attacked and left for dead with no memory of his former life, John’s memory returns when his wife and children find him. Leaving Gretchen weeks before their planned wedding breaks both their hearts. Being reunited with his family is a balm to that loss, but John quickly realizes the old adage that you can never go home again is even truer when you still don’t remember huge sections of your former life. A spotty memory compounds family infighting, a risk of financial ruin, and having no idea how to step back into a marriage that is complicated by his lingering love for Gretchen.
Even though Gretchen was the one to release John and step aside, going home to her friends and family and the curiosity and pity of an entire community quickly overwhelms her. Friend and neighbor Carl has been in love with Gretchen nearly since the day they met. She knows he would be more than willing to help her forget the pain of losing John, but diving into a new relationship is the last thing Gretchen needs. Feeling lost, broken, and confused leaves Gretchen floundering to figure out how to move on.
As they both face starting over, again, the pull to fall back into the familiarity of each other’s arms weighs heavily against facing the struggle to move forward.
Narrative point of view is the perspective through which a story is communicated. If you want to tell the story from the direct perspective of the main character or an observer, first person might be the right POV.
First Person POV
There are two variations of first person POV.
First person protagonist is when the character narrates his or her own story. This is very common in popular fiction. This allows the reader a close, personal look into the character’s experience, thoughts, and emotions.
First person observer is when a secondary character tells the main character’s story, such as Dr. Watson narrating Sherlock’s Holmes cases. This is less common in modern popular fiction, but is still used by some writers. This is a useful style when you don’t want the reader to be directly inside the main character’s mind and when the story is better served being told by someone who can somewhat objectively tell the main character’s story.
Advantages of First Person
It feels natural to the reader, because it’s how we speak about our world and experiences to others in real life.
Dealing with only one narrator’s mind can also be easier for the writer than writing multiple narrators. It is also usually easier for the reader to follow the story and keep track of events.
It also creates a unique and distinctive internal voice. Being in only in one character’s mind at a time makes it easier to “stay in character” as well. This is a popular POV for new or young writers for that reason.
Readers also get to experience the story vicariously more easily in first person, which may or may not be a benefit to the story and should be a factor in considering what POV to use.
There is also opportunity to create an unreliable narrator, however, this is a very challenging character to write and must be well planned from the beginning to be successful.
It is much more intimate and can fully immerse a reader in a story, which might be too much for some stories that have triggers or are highly intense or emotional.
Disadvantages of First Person POV
Writers are limited to writing only about what the character can see, know, or hear. This makes it difficult to hide things from the main character, or to reveal information to the reader without the main character knowing as well.
The narrator must be in every scene, observing and participating in the story. This limits what scenes the reader can observe and what information the reader is privy to.
Minds of other characters are off limits, as is their knowledge about the story, unless directly shared with the narrator in some way.
This writing craft series will focus on choosing the right Narrative Mode and Point of View.
Telling the right story means telling it from the best POV and with the best narrative modes.
What is Narrative Mode?
Narrative Mode and Narration are easy to confuse.
Narration is the use of commentary to convey a story to an audience.
Narrative Modes in fiction are the methods used to tell a story. Methods that are commonly used include narrative point of view, narrative tense, and narrative voice. This series will delve into each mode, beginning with the one that writers and readers or most familiar with, Point of View.
Narrative Point of View
Narrative POV links the narrator to the story. It reveals who is telling the story and what their relationship is to the story events and characters.
The narrator is often a character, but can also be an unknown observer who conveys thoughts or opinion, or a completely unknown observer who only relates the events without additional commentary.
Writing from the point of view of a character is very common in modern popular fiction, but telling a story from an observer’s perspective is still used, though it is seen more often in literary fiction. It is not often a reader comes across a contemporary book written from the perspective of an observer who offers no commentary.
Point of View
When we talk about point of view, what we’re really discussing is how and by whom the story is being told. Narrative point of view is the perspective through which a story is communicated to the reader, and it can great affect how a story is told and how a reader connects with the story and its players.
There are multiple point of views through which to tell a story, including first person (protagonist or observer), second person (the reader is the character and is addressed directly), and third person (omniscient, objective, limited, and deep).
Each type will have a different impact on the story, including how close a reader can get to the characters, what limitations a particular POV places on storytelling, and what the reader can know through the character.
In the next several posts, I’ll break down each of these point of views and their advantages and disadvantages.
Show, Don’t Tell is a common bit of advice in creative writing. It is especially important when describing setting.
Young or new writers often try to tell the reader too much about the environment a character inhabits. This often happened by giving one concrete detail of the setting then explaining what this detail means, such as, “The sofa had a tear in the arm rest, which had been there for years because Agnes’s mother couldn’t afford to buy and new one and never had enough time to attempt fixing it with her meager sewing skills.”
This might sound fine at first glance, but there are better ways to share this information with the reader without being so wordy and direct. Consider what this piece of description is telling the reader:
The family isn’t wealthy
The mother works a lot
The mother lacks traditional “homemaking” skills
The house/contents are worn and in need of repair
To make description effective and well-integrated into the story, avoiding big blocks of “telling,” its important to consider how the character experiences the information you’re trying to communicate to the reader.
Here are some examples of how this same information can be shown and integrated into the bigger story.
Agnes collapsed onto the couch. She blindly reached across the arm of the couch in search of the remote and her fingertip caught on the ever-present hole in the fabric. She frowned at is, just as her mother always did. Agnes wished she her after school job was enough to help her mother buy a new couch, but even with her measly paychecks, they were still barely covering the bills. The one time Agnes had suggested she quit school to work more still made her shiver when she thought about it. Her mother’s slap had been completely unexpected. She’d yelled that she wasn’t working double shifts just so Agnes could end up just like her. A strange mixture of hurt and shame filled Agnes as the memory swept over her. She stared at the hole. Maybe she could fix it. She scoffed and shook her head. With what sewing skills? Her mom had been too busy working as a kid to learn something like that.
In this paragraph, the same information is given to the reader, but through Agnes’s thoughts and experiences. It delivered over time, at a more natural pace, as well.
Overindulging in Description
Description should not be overindulgent. It should be relevant to the story and situation. Long passages of elaborate description may have been the style in past eras, but in today’s world readers have shortened attention spans because there are so many pressures on time. Building a detailed setting with endless description will bore most readers and may even cause them to abandon the book. Trim down description of setting to what is relevant to the scene and to what provides useful information to the reader.
Description should orient the reader in the setting, letting them explore the setting with your character in a way that reveals insights about the character, his or her life, what is important to a character, etc.
Consider how to reveal information about a family’s dynamics through setting by having a teen look through the kitchen cupboards. If the sole box of cereal in the cupboard is on the verge of going stale that reader will begin to question how fit the parents are, whether there is enough money to meet basic needs, or if there are issues of abuse or neglect taking place.
You might present the opposite information to the reader by describing cupboards filled with healthy foods and ingredients and the character’s favorite items. This will suggest at least comfortable wealth, attentive and educated guardians, a caring environment, etc. Most likely, your character will have a home life that is somewhere in between these two extremes, but it only takes a few carefully crafted sentences to show that to the reader.
Use setting to help tell readers a story rather than directly telling the readers where the story is happening as information separate from the story.
Writers can use worldbuilding techniques to create unique settings.
Start With the Basics
There are several important aspects of setting to consider:
Layout and geography
What lies beyond the immediate setting
Politics, laws, and governing system
Culture and traditions
Local plants and animals
Jobs, economy, imports/exports
History, enemies, and allies
Folklore, urban legends, etc.
Details only locals would know
The hero’s feelings and opinions about the place
All of these elements will affect a character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle and may affect the path of a storyline.
One you have at least one item for each element in the list, consider how each one might affect the character or story, and whether that effect is beneficial and moves the story forward or if it simply adds another layer of richness.
These elements can be integrated into a setting as minor or major elements, depending on what the scene needs. Folklore may be relevant in a non-realistic storyline out a child who’s gone missing under mysterious circumstances, but only mentioned in passing in a realistic setting where adults reminisce about childhood fears. A mixture of major and minor elements give a setting depth and uniqueness.
Develop the Details
Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. The level of detail often depends on the genre. Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out.
Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation ot introducing a non-realistic world readers are not familiar with requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process or place.
Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.
Let’s use food as an example to see how something relatively simple and easy to overlook can be an important detail in providing information about a character through setting.
What characters eat can indicate location, such as putting coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches, which is common in the south but a strange combination in the southwest United States.). Food can reveal income, such as a character having a cupboard full of Ramen noodle packets or a collection of delicious wines in a built in wine fridge. Food could also inform the reader about personality quirks. If all the food in a character’s fridge is yellow, the reader will start considering why.
Irrelevant details have the potential of confusing readers because they cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. These can later appear to be plot holes or sloppy writing. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!
Once you have the foundation of your setting and world and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.
Consider a real-world worldbuilding example: Choose the city relevant to the story line>choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character>choose a neighborhood with access to amenities that will help progress the story>choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict>develop hobbies that allow for character growth>etc.
Now consider a paranormal worldbuilding example: Choose a mythology base>tweak the base to suit major plot points>develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups>develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy>develop goals for each opposing group>develop individual goals that clash with others’ goals of the group’s goals>develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop> etc.
In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way
Setting can help determine the mood and atmosphere of a story. These should vary throughout a story when the setting and other factors change.
First, a few definitions, because it’s easy to confuse these elements”
Mood is the emotional feel of a scene, created through specific language meant to put the reader is a specific emotional state.
Tone is the way the author expresses their attitude toward the setting and scene through their use of narrative devices such as description and vocabulary.
Atmosphere is the combination of mood and tone, and is created through the author’s specific attitude or approach to writing a scene.
Carefully consider the words you use, the tempo of your sentences, and the point of view and perspective used when writing a scene.
How a setting is described can change the way both readers and characters perceive the scene and how characters interact with the setting. If the scene has a fearful element, characters will move through it more slowly and the reader will read more slowly so as not to miss anything.
Description also helps to develop the tone of a scene. Use words that match the atmosphere you are trying to create. For example, a bird who chirps creates a different feel than one who squawks or caws. Textures, smells, and lighting can also be used to create a specific mood and tone. Use all five senses to fully develop a scenes description.
Description of the covered bridge in Sleepy Hollow has a much different feel than description of the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. A well-worn blanket suggests it has been used and cherished while a threadbare blanket suggests lack of funds and support.
Match sentence tempo to what is happening in a scene. Use a quick tempo for an intense or frightening scene by writing shorter sentences, using high-impact words (single descriptors rather than multi-word descriptors), limit extraneous details not absolutely needed, stay focused on the action, and avoid long sections of dialogue.
For slower tempo scenes, focus on using longer and more fluid sentences for calm or contemplative moments. Description and internal dialogue can help slow the pace when you want the reader or character to pay particular attention to something, or to give the reader time to process the scene more fully.
Certain types of action can change the tempo of a scene as well. Fast or frantic movements create anxiety or a feeling of need. This may include things like searching for something, running, shifting, or pacing. If, however, a character in engaged in slower movements, a calmer feeling will pervade the scene. Low-tempo actions may include reading, lying on a couch, strolling, folding laundry, or cooking.
Point of View
Consider which point of view will create the right feel for a scene. First person is very immediate and can cause emotions to feel more intense and immediate. First person also puts the reader in the middle of the action or emotion as it is happening. For romances or personal stories, this ca help the reader feel they are experiencing the story with the characters and create a stronger atmosphere.
However, first person may be too much for some topics or events, such as those which may have triggering effects for some readers. First person can also be too limiting if the reader needs to know details happening around the character but not necessary within his view or awareness.
Third person provides distance and an wider view of events, but also has it’s pluses and minuses. Third person typically allows for more thorough description because the character does not necessarily have to be physically taking note of scene details in order to share them with the reader. It can also provide a buffer between the story and reader when there are difficult subjects or events. If the emotions or actions of a scene need to be close to the reader in order to set the right atmosphere, third person may provide too much distance and weaken the mood and tone.
There will, of course, be different types of scenes throughout a story that might have conflicting point of view needs. Consider the story as a whole and determine which will work best for the majority of scenes and be flexible with other scenes.
Time is an important factor in the development of setting because it is linked to so many other aspects of a setting.
Time and Technology
These two elements are intricately connected because technology changes with time and getting the pairing wrong creates anachronisms the reader will most likely notice. Technology can also impact the events of a story, such as being able (or not able) to contact someone easily by cell phone or the ability to find needed information.
When writing in your own time period, or one you have lived through, it’s easier to get the technology right. Any time you venture from familiarity, take the time to thoroughly research what was available in a time period. Not only will this create a more realistic setting, readers can develop respect for your hard work and you will increase your credibility when readers learn new things about a time period.
When writing crime, technology is critical to get right in order to be believable. Don’t just consider when a technology was developed, but also when it became widely available in cities and rural areas and what public perception of specific technology was during that time. DNA profiling became available in the early 80s, but required a much larger blood sample than is needed today and was more limited on what it could determine. It was could also be more hindrance than help in trials because so few members of the public understood what it was and either didn’t understand it or distrusted it even into the 90s.
Time and Society
Time also factors into self-perception and social rules. Self perception is all too often closely linked to how others treat a person. Throughout time, minority groups have been treated with varying degrees of respect and equality. Consider how the experience of a 1950s black woman applying for a professional job would be very different from a white teenage boy in modern times. The different way they experience life impacts how they see themselves and what trials and they will face.
Time period also limits opportunities for certain races, genders, religions, and other groups. Be sure to research historical rules, laws, prejudices, and customs of a time period. Elizabeth Blackwell was a British physician and the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849, however it wasn’t until the 1972 Title IX of the Higher Education Act prohibited federally funded schools from discriminating based on gender.
Time should also be considered in sports, education, and careers. It’s important to know how long it takes to become a lawyer, professional athlete, business mogul, PhD, etc. and plan your timeline and the ages of your characters accordingly. Steer away from “genius” or “prodigy” characters unless absolutely critical to the story. This overused trope doesn’t hold the appeal it once did. If you must have a 22-year-old billionaire, it’s much more realistic that he or she inherited that wealth rather than built it on his or her own.
When writing in any time period other than the present, don’t forget to consider other aspects like fashion trends, politics, generally available knowledge, and other elements that are dependent on time as well.
Place and location impact a story by how characters interact with the setting and how it shapes their worldview.
Go deeper than just city, suburbs, or country when locating your character within a fictional world. Consider both place and location. Place is a broader term that defines a space or an area, while location is a more specific point where a specific town/neighborhood/building/etc. is physically located. So a place might be the mountains, while Emerald Lake is near Estes Park, Colorado is a location.
Place can also describe how a person lives within a space, such as an empty desert or isolated cabin. Defining place in this way can help you establish how it will impact the story and character. For example, living in seclusion limits interactions with people but may shift a worldview to one more peaceful and patient. Living in a bustling city may give a character energy and enthusiasm to achieve a dream.
Location can be used to create physical limitations and/or opportunities for a character as well. A character in search of an opportunity to share his art with others will have more opportunities in a city or town that values art and has a strong artist community. A character in search of a job outside of agriculture might face a great deal of frustration and disappointment in a small town that mainly relies on ranching for financial support if she is stuck there and can’t explore other locations.
Place and location should affect the story and characters differently depending on the situation. Consider how the same location of a small town with a close-knit community who has strong conservative values would have on a character coming home. A character coming home after a stint in prison for drug possession will be received and affected quite differently than a character who returns to announce an engagement and acceptance to law school.
Location also has an affect on a character’s thoughts and behaviors. Walking into a twentieth-floor office for a first day on the job may inspire anxiety and cause him to make mistakes while going out with friends for a fun night might inspire confidence and excitement.
Interactions with other people change in different types of location and choices may even be very different. Hanging out with people a character has known all his life makes him feel comfortable and let his guard down, maybe to the point of revealing something he wouldn’t or shouldn’t tell anyone else. Meeting someone on vacation could lead a person to inflate their status or lie about certain aspects of their self or life because they believe they will never see the person again.
Place and location almost act as another character in the way they can influence both characters and story. Carefully consider both to use them to their full potential.
Setting has several major components, most of which are at least somewhat interconnected.
It’s important to consider all aspects of setting and how each element will impact the story or characters.
The social environment a character inhabits affects their place in society, how she view herself and how others view her. It can impact confidence and expectations the character holds for himself or that others hold for him. A social environment can be encouraging and supportive or destructive and hindering.
It’s also important to consider the stability or chaotic nature of a social environment. Instability may breed disillusionment and rebellion while stability encourages things to stay as they are and may either be peaceful or boring.
Where a character lives or was raised will impact how she thinks and what she values. Consider how the land and nature has impacted her life, or how a lack of either may create a sense of fear or longing.
Location also helps determines what hobbies, skills, or habits a character might develop. City dwelling requires different survival skills than country living and classical ballet may not have been an option in a small, rural town.
Place is also important in determining what a character has learned to value. Aspects to consider include, family bonds, responsibility or duty to the community, obedience to elders or leaders, respect for other cultures, etc. Think about what experiences a particular place would have available that will influence developing values.
Time period plays an integral part in creating an accurate and believable setting. This is easier when dealing with the modern world, or a time period you personally experienced.
When writing in a time period not modern or not personally experienced, it is important to thoroughly research the technology, politics, fashion, slang and speech styles, important historical events, differences in geography or town/city structures, etc.
Every time period develops its own social and political culture that is created by a variety of factors. Become familiar with those factors in order to accurately portray a specific time period.
This type of research is also important to know because it will impact the character. Certain concepts and ideas were not widespread or commonly understood in one period versus another. Some ideas, freedoms, or information were simply unavailable in certain time periods and will affect how a character views his or her self or the world.
Whether mimicking a real setting or creating a fictional one, mood and atmosphere need to be considered in order for a scene to connect with the reader in the way you want it to.
Determine what type of mood and atmosphere will best serve the scene, then break down what will help create the right mood and atmosphere. Factors may include, weather, decor, time of day/night, sounds, lighting, colors, formal or informal environment, other people in the scene, topic of conversation, and more.
Weather and geography can influence both the storyline and a character’s thoughts or actions. When writing a scene, consider whether the climate and geography will help, hinder, or remain neutral.
A neutral climate or geography will have little to no impact on the events or actions of the scene. In this case, neither is usually mentioned more than in passing.
A helping climate or geography will provide support to the purpose of the scene, whether that be physical, emotional, or mental. Good weather and a pleasant geographical area can further deep thinking, romantic opportunity, or clam reflection. Bad weather or rough geography can also be a help if it pushes the story in the desired direction (seeking shelter together or providing strenuous activity to clear the mind).
A hindering climate or geography will frustrate a goal or action, through ultimately continue to advance the storyline. A storm might knock out power when it’s needed most or a swampy landscape might make tracking a suspect slow or impossible. While actions or goals might be temporarily hindered, they should also provide opportunities for progression and growth for the character, such as overcoming a fear or physical limitation.
A character’s political views and cultural background greatly impact how he sees himself or the larger world. It is important to consider how a town’s or region’s politics and culture intersect with a character’s goals, decisions, relationships, career choices, etc. Some areas have strong and specific cultures, which are often intertwined with political ideals. Other areas have more general cultures and political ideals, so individual family culture and politics may play a bigger role in a character’s development.
Young minds are highly influenced and the political and culture environments a person grows up in helps to shape their personality and worldview. A major point of conflict in a story may revolve around overcoming closely held views as a person grows older, experiences a new culture of political view, or faces a personal crisis.
Fully exploring these aspects of personality and character development can help you create a deeper character that connects with readers on a more profound level.
History should be considered on a personal, local, and macro level when developing setting.
A character’s personal history with a setting can deeply effect how they view that location and may change some aspect about their personality when they are in that location, such as going how to an abusive environment.
Towns or neighborhoods have specific histories as well. How a neighborhood developed within a larger city might have to do with its ethnic or racial background, or may be more closely linked to career or trade. Natural disasters or community tragedies will also affect the culture and atmosphere of a place.
On a larger scale, major events within a society should be considered when developing setting. What changed about New York post-911 or in elementary schools during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the lingering effects still seen in New Orleans form Hurricane Katrina? Has the BLM movement changed the way some town and neighborhoods interact with police or racial groups? Some authors choose not to address such issues in order to avoid dating a story, but that often proves impossible. If an large-scale issue impacts setting, thoroughly research the issue in order to portray its effects realistically.