Looking for Inspiration

Corpus Christi College Cambridge

At the May meeting of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, we started to look at how we would choose a location to provide a setting for our stories/novels.

The main considerations were:

Suitable for the story

Do you need a particular building, such as a library or a shopping centre, or maybe a tower block? This would influence the choice of setting. You are unlikely to make your story realistic if you present the reader with high-rise flats in the middle of a forest or a shopping centre in a small, rural hamlet.


It is usually easier to describe features that are familiar to us. As residents of a small Fenland market town, surrounded by water on three sides, we have excellent backgrounds written by our members, describing watery landscapes, rising mists and a beautiful sense of being part of nature. I’m sure this sense of familiarity is equally true of writers who live in a city areas or on the coast.

A Winter Sunset


If it is necessary, or your choice, to set the scene in a place with which you are not familiar, research is the key to a believable story. Do you need to know the history or identify geological features? Do you need to mention the direction of the prevailing wind or does the sun set over the sea or over the mountains?

Can you carry out a lot of this research at home? Google can be a useful tool. Study maps. Take a virtual walk. This technology is invaluable, but can you describe the smell of fish being unloaded on the dock if you have only taken a virtual walk, or feel the texture of sand between your toes by studying a map?

Perhaps a better option would be to arrange a trip, explore the surrounding area, talk to the locals – yes, what better excuse for an extended holiday?

An excuse for an extended holiday

Or, if you are unable to visit, communicate with others who have local knowledge. Perhaps members of the creative writing group in that area would be happy to help? You could always ask.

It’s acceptable to use names of places such as the local police station, bus station, cathedral etc, but it’s equally OK to invent somewhere new for your own purpose. The advantage of an imaginary location is that you can place things where ever you want. The disadvantage is that you have to remember where you put things. You must avoid falling into the trap of telling the reader that the station is two miles from the village in chapter one, then having your character alighting from the train and crossing the road to the pub in chapter ten.

A final word is that you may need more than one setting: present time in the story, flashbacks to a place remembered by a character, a future dream of where a character would like to go. Descriptions of each of these will be influenced by the character’s experience and expectations.

Next month we will be looking at inspiration for characters.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. I’ve found Google Map’s satellite photos useful.
    We have an aerial photo bought from a photographer who’d been taking pics for Google. He came around with framed photos of our drove, asking if we wanted copies.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: