ORWA officers gave us the great opportunity of participating in a webinar with Mary Buckham on writing active setting in May 2017. It was a two-part webinar, with an initial presentation followed by a Q&A session a week later. This gave us plenty of time to review the information she gave us, re-watch the presentation, try our hand at re-writing our own setting descriptions, and come up with any questions we’d like her to address.

Mary’s presentation went through the different ways authors should use setting to enhance the story by:

  • powering up emotion
  • bringing your story to life
  • elevating action sequences
  • deepening character development
  • exploring ways to maximize character conflict
  • anchoring readers to a specific time and place
  • spinning boring descriptions into engaging prose
  • revealing backstory without slowing things down

During the presentation she showed us “befores and afters” of setting passages, and examples of how a setting should always serve a purpose. She explained that we, as authors, should spend time looking for great examples in the books we are reading. She showed a journal she keeps of long-hand notes recording passages as she reads to remember what she liked and thought the author did right. She also uses page flags to mark parts of the book that have good examples of setting, body language, sexual tension, etc.

Some examples she gave were from:

Of course, Mary has several of her own series that will without a doubt offer great examples of use of setting.

In addition to the time we spend finding examples, she also impressed upon us the importance of re-writing our own work to polish it. Both of her webinar sessions were available for ORWA members to view for several weeks, but luckily Mary also has available three ebooks on setting, and a compiled edition, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, from Writer’s Digest. She also offers several other writing services, and has more offerings in the works.