Setting: Time

Setting: Time

Thanks to for the intro and outro music!

Ask the Author: Chris via When it comes to editing, would you/do you use an editing service? If so who do you use for this? Who would you recommend?

Aaron: Another fine question. I do recommend using an editing service for most writers, especially for new writers. Even if you’re in a critique group, it really helps to have an outside pair of eyes on your work. If you’re new to the game, you want to make the best first impression possible. As for who I recommend, most of my editors no longer edit because they’re all writing now. You can do some Googling to make an informed decision on who to use (find one with reasonable prices with good word of mouth). But I think the best way to find an editor for your project is to attend writers’ conferences. Here, you can meet them in person and find out if they’re a good match for you and your project.

Al: This can be a tough call. Hiring a good editor is always a good idea but it does require a layout of money–probably several hundred dollars. Even if you do hire an editor and manage to get a contract with a publisher, they’re going to edit it as well. Much of it depends how well you know basic grammar and usage (yes, those are different things). My wife usually reads everything I write and she makes lots of good catches. Still, things get through. If you have three editors go over it, errors will still slip by. Also, there is no single set of agreed upon writing rules. That’s a myth. It varies from publisher to publisher. If you can’t afford to hire an editor, then make sure you do your best to turn in as clean a copy as possible. Publishers don’t expect perfection in a submission but they do expect professionalism. If you self-publish hiring an editor makes sense.

MJ: I strongly recommend hiring a professional editor, and not just because I’m also a professional editor. My first criteria for selecting an editor (and yes, I have one myself, and it’s not me), is their social media. If their posts have typos or seem disjointed, they’re not the editor for me. It may sound funny, but I’ve experienced writers and editors who put less effort into their social media than they do in their professional work. For me, that’s careless and not someone I’d want to work with. Ask your writing friends who they recommend, attend conferences like Aaron said, and reach out online. Many editors have blogs or websites with their rates and contact information. Good luck!

Firsts in Fiction

Setting: Time

To begin, let’s be clear on what “setting” entails. Setting refers to the time, the place, and the circumstances in which your story takes place. We often think of it only as “place,” but time and circumstances are of equal importance. For example, think of a “love story.” This typical romance will play out differently in Los Angeles in the 1920s than it would in the 1960s in the South. Or in 2121 in space. Just saying.

When establishing the time of your novel, consider the following:

  • Your story MUST take place in a particular time as well as in a particular place. Do not fall into the “any town, any time” trap. This always results in confusion on the part of the reader. Instead, have a specific place, a specific time, and a specific set of circumstances in which your story takes place. Such tangible grounding of your novel will result in rich details and compelling narratives.
    • I’ve had people caution me about “dating” my novel, that is, not be too specific with time/elements. For example, using a “smartphone.” How can I create a timeless story if I have to incorporate a time? This makes me think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is such a classic and yet distinctly 60s New York.
    • I disagree with those who warn against “dating” a piece of fiction. It is the characters that make a story timeless. Many readers respond to “era” novels and stories–plots that take place in a particular era. Gone with the Wind is tied to the Civil War era but is a timeless story. Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime are set in the 1920s. The BBC did a series based on those characters but set them in WWII. In my opinion, it failed to live up to the original.
    • Is it possible for a character to identify with something outside their realm, and how complicated would that be for the reader? Are there examples where this has been successful?
  • Your characters determine what you (the writer) pay the most attention to. If they are American, they will likely be concerned with American events. A journalist will be well versed in “current” events. Perhaps they’re simply a painter, and don’t pay much attention to the political events, but they will know the impressionists and other trends in art.
  • National and World events: Can you imagine setting a novel in 1942 and not mentioning Pearl Harbor (December 1941) or World War II? Or a novel set in New York in November of 2001 without mentioning the World Trade Centers? Even if your character isn’t particularly interested in current events, they won’t be able to NOT know about these events. It will shape all of the characters around them. They may hate politics, but if it’s a “current” novel, they’ll have a Trump supporter in one ear, and a Clinton supporter in the other. These events can serve to add more credibility to your story and make your setting richer.
    • How important is it then to use these types of events/issues? Or does that depend on the story?
    • Not every story has to have well-known climatic event. But, if the writer places a character in a place and at or soon after a huge event, then that will color the setting. By the same token local events can be major to small group of people. A new freeway running through an Amish community.
  • Pop Culture: What songs are in the jukebox? Are there jukeboxes around? How about what movies are playing in the theatres? Who won the Oscars? The Grammys? Who’s hot, who’s not? Is there a particular television show sweeping the nation? One of the things we love about Back to the Future is the building of the town, the clock tower, but also how Marty uses his “future” knowledge in a world that doesn’t understand Johnny B. Good. It’s the music and the slang that adds some of the most comical, memorable moments.
    • Another “trick” I’ve used is just the opposite. My novel, NOLA, takes place in modern day New Orleans, but the heritage and history warrants frequent mention of older music (Rat Pack, Otis Redding) and classic foods as well as locations. But my character makes note of “that 100-year-old building” and “songs older than us”. She also uses these elements as a comparison to today. (She hates the “collision of bright history and steely skyscrapers”.) It may not work for every story, but it can give a “then/now” feel.
  • Fashion: This is my (Aaron’s) weakest point. I’ve never paid attention to fashion (you can tell, if you watch on YouTube). I don’t know the terms. I have to do a fair amount of research to make myself sound quasi-credible. Pops, you have a funny story about this, don’t you? Consider what was popular in fashion trends in the time of your novel. Think flappers, zoot suits, leg warmers in the 80s, etc.
    • I have a couple of stories about this.
    • This really applies to historical novels. Jack Cavanaugh tells me that he once mentioned a character, a woman I think, tying her shoe, except she live in a time when shoes were buttoned.
  • Technology: A favorite of sci-fi writers, establishing the technology for the time can be tricky and require a lot of research. In historical novels, you wouldn’t have someone using a cellphone in World War II, nor would you have someone in 2016 using a rotary phone. If you’re writing in the future, you have to project how technology will advance, and what communications, weaponry, etc. will look in the future.
    • I recommend double checking your information, too. Don’t rely on just one source or website for details. If you’re writing in the future, keep it plausible. That is, a cell phone chip isn’t going to pop out of my cat’s eye if I crank her tail. At least, I hope not.
    • It is easy to make a mistake in this area. In A Ship Possessed, I have two timelines: one in WWII; the other in present day. I mention in the WWII era a television show called the Milton Berle show. I was about three years too early. The thing is, I don’t remember putting in the book. I had of course, but I had been focused on something else.
  • Economy: The economy fluctuates. Knowing this will help you conceptualize the world in which your character lives. Is your novel set during a boom (think the Silicon Valley upswing or the Roaring 20s) or during a downturn (think the Great Depression, the housing crisis of the early 2000s). Has your character lost money in the market, or made money? Even if they don’t play stocks, their careers will be affected. Perhaps they may be on the verge of being pink-slipped or laid off. Maybe they have their eyes set on a promotion to a new managerial position. These small details can help add important, visceral subplots to your novel.

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