Friday, May 6, 2011

Scoring a Well-Rounded Manuscript: Setting, Backstory, and Hooks

For the last few posts, we've been talking about elements that make up a well-rounded story (check out previous posts on voice, and characters and plot). In the game of bowling, the goal of each frame is to bowl a strike - and each pin knocked down contributes to that goal. The same concept applies to story writing. Hitting and knocking down each pin (or touching on each important element of a story) will get you that strike, aka your well-rounded story.

So today we're onto the next row of pins. Three aspects of a story that can really help round it out if done right.


There's no question, setting varies depending on story. Some include very little setting description and others say setting is another character. Either way, using setting appropriately can add to a story.

Tips on Setting

*Make talk about setting proportionate to what stories of that genre require or typically demonstrate
*Use it to appeal to a certain type of reader if it suits your genre. Therefore, allow your setting to enhance mood or tone
*Keep it real. If your setting is a real place, make sure your facts are correct, and whether the location is real or not, make the setting relatable to your reader (if they enjoy small town stories, write about a small town, or similarly with a big city)
*Use small details. Setting isn't relegated to town or country, but sometimes specific places like a home or location outdoors. Utilize items and objects around the characters (like furniture, nature, etc.) to give the reader a better sense of setting


This one can be a challenge, and I think most of us have struggled with it at some point in our writing journey. However, most of us will agree that backstory in some form or another is necessary, therefore important to get right.

Tips on Backstory

*Rule of thumb, don't use backstory much or in large chunks within the first fifty pages (though I've noticed this also hinges on publisher and genre, particularly in category fiction)
*Sneaking in backstory here or there, like a line to entice readers, can get them to keep reading
--for example: Jerry settled his glasses on his nose, watching the girl dip her feet into the fountain when she thought no one was looking. A gesture of confidence, of childlike delight. So much like his daughter before the accident.
Jerry swallowed and flicked his glasses into position again. Not now. He didn't have time for reminiscing. He had a job to do.
*Adding short visits to the past, whether spurned by feelings or sights, etc. can be used to interest the reader and make them want to know more


Hooks can be simple but an undeniable asset to a story if done right.

Tips on Hooks

*You can use these for more than just opening a novel. Use hooks to open/end a scene, or to end a chapter
*Make the goal of your hook to encourage the reader to flip pages
*Sometimes less is more. Inundating your reader with details and backstory isn't always the way to go. Sometimes giving them the bare minimum is just enough to entice a reader, to hook them into reading on, and to contribute to pacing (which we'll talk about in the next post)

What kind of tips or tricks do you use concerning these elements of a story? Do you think using setting, backstory, and hooks well can help round out a story?


Julia said...

Thanks, Cindy. These are great tips. I'm taking a setting class and learning more about how to use setting to add tone and mood to the story. I think setting is really a weak point to my writing and I'm hoping this class will help me to strengthen it.

Keli Gwyn said...

Good points, Cindy. I've been working on all three in my WIP. My two CPs are great at using ROPs (read-on prompts) at the end of their chapters, and I've been learning from them. I use real towns as the settings for my historicals and love bringing them to life. The research is fun, too.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Cindy.
Great tips:)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Julia, a setting class sounds so helpful. There are people who write setting so seamlessly you hardly notice how effective the setting is unless you think about it. A great gift to have, I think :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Keli, I'm still amazed at how much research historical writers have to do and how well they can bring a time period and place to life. ROPs are such great tools to utilize, and definitely something I can work on myself. Thanks!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Mary! I'm learning from this series myself, trying to take each element and apply it to my story as much as possible during my first draft. Hope it helps :) Have a great weekend!

Beth K. Vogt said...

As a journalist who had all the adjectives beat out of her by my college professors, I tend to skimp on certain details like setting. I figure that I can write a basic idea and let the reader figure the rest out.
So I'm using a tip from Susan May Warren. Before I create a scene, I take time to write out what my character would experience in the scene through her five senses. What would she see, touch, smell, hear, taste? This helps me jump-start the setting and then I can develop it as I write the scene.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oh, Beth! I did the journalism thing in school, too, and I definitely skimp on the details in setting...and everything else :) That tips is an excellent one! What a great way to incorporate senses and details into a scene that we never would have thought of before. Thanks for sharing your tip!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Excellent tips, Cindy! I'm still working on establishing setting better. I've always been afraid of overdoing it, but then I tend to go the opposite extreme and not give enough details. Some of the tips in these comments are great too!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I agree, Sarah, some of the tips in the comments are great. I love learning other writers secrets, some of them are so simple and soooo helpful!

Have a great weekend!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I'm finally getting a chance to sit down and read. I've enjoyed the posts I've "caught" this week. :) As for setting, I haven't been writing for long, but at the beginning of a scene, I close my eyes and try to see what the character would see from where he/she is standing at the beginning of the scene. I try to incorporate all five senses. Again, I haven't been writing for very long, but this has helped me to see the setting my characters are in. :) I appreciate all you aspiring authors share on your blog, and I love reading everyone's comments too. :) I'm learning so much.