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How to Develop Your Setting as You Write

In two short days, NaNoWriMo begins. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are putting final touches on their outlines, stocking up on caffeinated beverages, and making other preparations for an epic month of novel writing. You've spent the past few weeks developing fascinating characters and a story for them to follow.

If this is your first novel, you've probably also realized that all this planning is just the tip of the iceberg. To bring your novel to life, you'll need a thorough understanding of at least one setting. If your project is an ambitious fantasy or science fiction novel, you might need to build an entire world or even a galactic government.

At this point, you can do one of two things. You can decide to skip NaNoWriMo this year, or you can jump into your novel on November first and commit to developing the details of your setting as you go.

Here at Write Plan, we usually encourage the slow and steady approach to novel planning. We believe that creating a solid outline, fleshed-out characters, and a detailed setting makes for a better first draft. But we also know that some writers spend decades on these things and never write a novel. At some point you simply have to stop planning and start writing; NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to do this. So, this time, we're going to encourage the second approach and give you some tools to do it.

How to build your setting as you go

For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on how to develop your setting, but these strategies can be used to develop any aspect of your story.

You can use one or all three of the strategies below to develop your setting as you write your first draft:

Start each day with a writing exercise. To get into the writing zone and develop your setting at the same time, begin each writing session with a 5- to 10-minute exercise designed to develop your world. You might only produce one or two paragraphs at a time, but every sentence matters.

Keep fact sheets to track everything you learn while writing. Every time you learn something new about your setting, write it down as a point-form note in your fact sheet. If you need to expand on it later, put a star beside it. You might also want to create fact sheets for each of your characters to be incorporated into your extended character profiles when NaNoWriMo is over.

Participate in world-building games in social media. If you're on Twitter, you can participate in a world-building game like #WIPWorldbuilders. Each month they post a new calendar of prompts, and they tweet the questions out every day. Writers can respond to all the questions or only the ones that catch their eye. It only takes a few minutes to type out your 280-word answer. You can find the monthly calendar pinned to the user's Twitter profile.

These strategies will help you build details of your setting into your first draft and give you an idea of what you need to expand on before you can start the second.

Final advice

If this is your first NaNoWriMo and you're feeling overwhelmed, head over to the NaNoWriMo forums and find some people to commiserate with. One of the biggest advantages of participating in this challenge is access to an enormous writing community. Some of those people will disappear when the month ends, but if you spend enough time in the community you're bound to make some friends for life.

Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and the Write Plan content writer. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.


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Twitter: @Write_Plan


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