I came home from the SCBWI Downstate Craft Retreat inspired and ready to write! Linda Sue Park was of course amazing, but more on that next week. First I wanted to chat about the lovely Julia Durango, our Friday evening speaker. Her topic was “Setting,” one I didn’t expect to need pointers on given all my rambling scene descriptions in desperate need of trimming. Yet her presentation was the one that most resonated with me.
Julia hosted a great interactive activity illustrating how setting and world building can become a huge part of your story, even creating plot points and conflicts. The best way to bring your setting to life: write about someplace you’re passionate about. Julia studied abroad in Latin America and fell in love with that setting. I had a similar experience in Spain. Julia wrote a very successful historical fiction novel inspired by her visit to Cartagena. You can guess where I’m going with this . . . Flash forward in time to my future bestselling novel set in Sevilla.
But seriously, I’d been instinctively following Julia’s advice without realizing it. My first middle grade novel was set in a fairy forest inspired by the Kettle Moraine Forest where I grew up. That setting was an integral part of the story plot, and the description came alive naturally. When I wrote a second middle grade novel in a more generic setting, the story fell flat. Next I decided to tackle my first young adult novel, and once again the Kettle Moraine Forest called to me. I also threw in a few of my favorite Chicago sites, and the setting soared. My current young adult work in progress required an international setting, so of course Sevilla came to mind.
So how could I be stumped for weeks over the perfect historical site for my new picture book idea? For the first time ever I’ve been researching locations, trying to fake an experience I’ve never had. Many, many thanks to Susie for stating the obvious over lunch at the retreat. “Why not set the story in the Alhambra Palace you’ve visited?” she brilliantly asked.
Why not, indeed? Cue the retro college snapshots from my summer abroad. My picture book manuscript took flight the moment I dusted off my old photo albums.