WRITING KNOWHOW Digging deeper into your setting

In the second of her strand on settings, Jasbinder Bilan talks about how to bring the setting to life for readers.

So you’ve decided on your setting and have been filling your sketchbook with words, doodles, and pictures, taking the first tentative steps into the world of your story. How do you put flesh on the bones of your setting? How do make your reader feel like they are right there with you?
When I wrote Asha And The Spirit Bird, it was crucial that my setting was as vivid as I could make it. Not many of my readership of 8-12 year olds are lucky enough to have been to the Himalayas, so I had to work hard to give them the tastes, smells and visuals so they could then imagine the setting for themselves.

I talked to my family to find out what it was like living on our farm in India as well as recalling the stories I was told throughout my childhood. These memories gave my setting authenticity. Collecting real stories and experiences can help give your setting very firm foundations.

Do your research. Even though it wasn’t possible for me to go back to the Himalayas to write my book, there is a treasure trove of material out there. I watched a lot of the wonderful BBC documentaries of the wildlife and landscape of the Himalayas. You need to be accurate about the types of plants and animals that would exist in your setting. What is the climate like? Write a scene being as visceral as you can. Get your reader to really feel the heat, the cold, the monsoon rain.
Make a collection of objects you would find in your setting. This will help you to bring touch and smell into your writing. I wrote some of my scenes surrounded by mangos including the leaves to help me imagine what it was like to be in the tree. Even if your setting is totally imaginary you should still do this.

Listening to particular music can really help transport you to the physical space of your setting. When I was writing the home scenes I listened to ghazals. These are very poetic Urdu songs with haunting melodies that tug on your heart-strings. For my city scenes I listened to a track from the film Diva. What will be your settings soundtrack?

According to family stories, Jasbinder Bilan was born in a stable in the foothills of the Himalayas. Until she was a year and a half, she lived on a farm inhabited by a grumpy camel and a monkey called Oma. Jasbinder graduated from Bath Spa WYP where the seeds of her story were nurtured but it was the incredible bond with her grandmother, which was the inspiration for Asha And The Spirit Bird. She lives with her husband, two teenage boys and dog Enzo in a man pad and splits her time between teaching and writing.

The feature image is by freelance graphic designer, illustrator, and writer, Suzanne Dore. Suzanne graduated in fine-art, has completed many children’s book illustration online courses, and joined SCBWI in 2015. Longlisted twice for Undiscovered Voices, this year Suzanne is shortlisted for Templar Publishing’s 40th competition. She is currently unpublished and seeking an agent.

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