Sunset of a different kind

I am a little prone to posting sunset photos on my blog and face book, but today I have a sunset with a difference for you. I’m delighted to be able to welcome back talented outback writer, Nicole Alexander. Her latest book, Sunset Ridge, is loaded on my iphone ready for reading on the long flight to the UK – my one regret is that gorgeous cover won’t be gracing an actual bookshelf! Today Nicole’s sharing some of her wisdom on the craft of writing. Over to you, Nicole, and a huge thank you for visiting!

It is a pleasure to be visiting Helene again. One day I hope to be chatting in person to her over a glass of red instead of relying on cyberspace, although I would be lost without the internet. The last time Helene and I e-chatted she invited me to blog on an aspect of writing, so I thought I would touch on story design. Thanks for having me, Helene.

The importance of design: Plots are important however there are a myriad reasons why people read books and the plot is just one. There are plenty of great novels that offer very little in terms of plot yet we are compelled to read them for their characters and or setting, so when it comes to actually designing a work of fiction there is no sure fire method. You can choose any angle from which to start joining the dots; a rough storyline, a particular setting, a single event, one character or a solid plot. Starting with a plot however can be both limiting and difficult to adhere to which is why it helps to be fluid in your thinking. I tend to start with one or two characters, before considering setting and the final plot, and I know of a number of authors who choose a setting first, with the plot sketchy at best to begin with.

As a reader I love a strong setting, filled with researched detail. I guess I’m after words that create movie style visual and it’s a technique I use in my own writing. I want the reader to step into my world and walk around in it. I want the reader to breathe and see what I do when I’m lost in my imagined world. For many authors character and setting rein equal in supremacy when it comes to the design of their work and certainly there are any number of genre’s where setting is often the starting point for a story. Fantasy, science-fiction and rural literature are prime examples of genre’s whose settings often attract readers before the actual story captures their hearts (we hope). Once you have your storyline and a rough idea of the plot (the what and why it happened), your chosen setting can become a crucial component of the work.

A great setting can add to both mood and tone, however attaining authenticity in a novel can be difficult which is why many new authors write about their own environment in first works. As fiction writing is very much about real life observation and internal imaginings the writer has to strike a balance between description and interior designer elaboration. An old editor of mine once told me that many solid works are bogged down in unnecessary description that slow the narrative; she then very politely underlined a passage in my own work. I got the point, then, but hey I do still get carried away.

Here are a few examples of how setting can be used in narrative.

Chronological: Historical events and particular time periods.

Background: A person from the country visits the city and may have handy skills for a particular character that lives in the next door flat. eg: The setting for The Great Gatsby is New York however most of the characters are from the mid-west.

Weather: A snow storm may force a cast of characters indoors leading to tension.

Family: Do you want your character to be living in an isolated area away from family and friends.

Character perception: A five year old and a sixty year old visiting a fast food outlet will each have vastly different perceptions of their environment.

eg: Remember Tom Hanks in the movie Big. This adult regressed to childhood with hilarious results.

Character response: A man may love living in an isolated mining town, a woman perhaps not so much.

Other design elements can include:

Linear narrative: telling the story through a series of chronological events or,

Telling the ending at the beginning or telling the story backwards.

Interweaving narratives – A device that works particularly well when there is more than one timeframe.

Parallel stories, flashbacks and sub-plots can all add to a works design

While the above will give the writer some design areas to consider I don’t believe you can write a great novel without a strong theme. The theme/s of a story are those ideas, patterns and issues which the story keeps returning to and re-examining during the course of the narrative. A theme/s is as much the subject of your story as the actual story details are…

Have I enticed you to put pen to paper?

My new novel Sunset Ridge is out now!

Come visit me at


13 thoughts on “Sunset of a different kind

  1. What an informative post and it covers the exact question that I was going to ask you at Kempsey Library on Tuesday. How you start a book is intriguing. Thanks Nicole 🙂

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Jenn. Perhaps I better not read this on an aircraft then… Sounds like I’ll be sobbing…

    I’m off to the UK and France to see family – particularly my sister and niece and nephew in France!! It was all dependent on Mum being well enough to leave and she’s doing so well!

    Of course there’s the small matter of edits before I can head off and enjoy a break… 🙂

  3. I stepped into your world in Sunset Ridge. the battlefield scenes still haunt me. Such dreadful times. This book REALLY got to me. Look forward to meeting you soon. Helene Young? UK? Did I miss something?

  4. I agree Nicole, theme is king when it comes to writing. I did a wonderful workshop with Toni Jordan and she talked about integrating theme into the design of every aspect of the story, setting, characters, sub plots. Thanks for an interesting post.

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