Diving Deep into Your Setting

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a long drive “along the river.” In our area, if you say that you are driving along the river, you aren’t really telling anyone where you are, because there are four rivers within an easy drive of my home.

The Mississippi

You might be driving near the Mississippi in downtown St. Louis. To the right is a photo during Fair St. Louis you can see the crowds below the Arch.

The photo was taken from a multi-story hotel among the skyscrapers and historic buildings that make up the city. It’s beautiful but you are driving on a major highway with scads of traffic.

That’s one distinct setting.

Driving along the Missouri.

The Mighty Mo

Or you might be driving near our house along the Missouri River. The river is wide and muddy which explains the other nickname, the Muddy Mo. People fish from the banks.

My favorite section flows along a winding road. For the most part, you can’t see the river and the road is narrow and shaded. I love it but I can also see that it would make a creepy setting.

The Meramec River

The Meramec is south of us. It appears wide and slow moving, but can be dangerous for inexperienced swimmers. There are cabins on stilts and people canoe the river. Trees grow not only along the river but also in the shallows. It is a very different atmosphere than the Mississippi or the Illinois.

The Illinois River

The River Road along the Illinois River.

East of us is the Illinois River. When you drive along the Illinois, you literally drive beside the river with the bluffs rising up on the other side. There are barges and sail boats on the water.

Every once in a while, the bluffs upon up and a town clings beside the river.

Why am I going into so much detail about the rivers in my area? Because if I set a story along a river, you should be able to tell which one I based my setting on.

All too often, we create generic settings. There is a river and a road. That’s all the reader knows. Use a bit more detail and you can set a tone and create an atmosphere. You also make your setting feel real.

Editors and agents receive far too many manuscripts with generic settings. Creating a genuine setting to pull your reader in.