Review: The Setting Thesauri

Setting ThesauriSo in awesome news, the writers of The Emotion Thesaurus have just published two new thesauri (don’t use that word often) for writers—The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Country Setting Thesaurus. By sheer luck, and the fact that I happened to be on Facebook at the right time, I ended up with an advance review copy of each. I had high hopes—The Emotion Thesaurus is an amazing tool, one that I draw on repeatedly both in my novel writing and my blog writing. The two setting thesauri did not let me down.

The structure of the thesauri are simple, they take a range of different settings (over 120 in each) and list all of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches of each. That would be helpful enough, but it also includes possible sources of conflict and setting notes and tips.

Setting is such an important part of a novel; get it wrong and it makes the entire story seems fake, don’t include it at the story seems insipid. The difficulty is often that if you haven’t been there, it’s awfully hard to build a scene convincingly.

Writers are told to ‘write what you know’, yet that would honestly lead to a world of very boring books. In truth, that’s a phrase that has come from primary school teachers, and like a lot of writing ‘rules’ that can be traced back to the classroom, it does’t apply in the strictest sense in the real, grown up world of writing.

As primary school teachers—and I used to be one—the goal is not to create great works of art, it’s to teach the basic mechanics of writing. ‘Write what you know’ gets taught because we are teaching students what the five senses are and how to use them in writing. We’re teaching them to be observant of their environments and how to use their memories to inform their writing. Once students have learnt that particularly skill, they can then apply it when writing about what they don’t know, filling in the blanks through imagination. Yet somehow the phrase has become a major piece of bad advice for budding writers everywhere.

How dreary the world would be if J K Rowling only chose to write what she knew. How scary if every crime writer decided they needed to experience crime first hand. How fewer romances would there be to read (and none of my favourite genre at all).

These two settings thesauri make writing what you don’t know so much easier. This is not to say that they should be the start and end of your research, but they certainly play a great, unique part of it. Now if the authors can just put together a ‘Regency England Setting Thesaurus’, I’ll be set!

From the back cover:

Rural setting thesaurusThe Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Places

Within the pages of a book exists a world drawn from a writer’s deepest imaginings, one that has the ability to pull readers in on a visceral level. But the audience’s fascination will only last if the writer can describe this vibrant realm and its inhabitants well. The setting achieves this by offering readers a unique sensory experience. So much more than stage dressing, the setting can build mood, convey meaning through symbolism, drive the plot by creating challenges that force the hero to fight for what he wants, and trigger his emotions to reveal his most intimate feelings, fears, and desires.

Inside The Rural Setting Thesaurus, you’ll find:

  • A list of the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds for over 100 settings revolving around school, home, and nature
  • Possible sources of conflict for each location to help you brainstorm ways to naturally complicate matters for your characters
  • Advice on the many effective ways to build mood, helping you steer both the character’s and readers’ emotions in every scene
  • Information on how the setting directly influences the plot by acting as a tuning fork for what a character needs most and by testing his dedication to his goals
  • A tutorial on figurative language and how different descriptive techniques can bring settings alive for readers while conveying a symbolic message or deeper meaning
  • A review of the challenges that arise when writing description, as well as special considerations that apply specifically to rural and personal settings

The Rural Setting Thesaurus takes “show-don’t-tell” to new heights. It offers writers a roadmap to creating fresh setting imagery that impacts the story on multiple levels while keeping readers engaged from the first page to the last.

Urban settingThe Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces

Making readers care and feel like they’re part of the story should be the number one goal for all writers. Ironically, many storytellers fail to maximize one of fiction’s most powerful elements to achieve this: the setting. Not only can the right location become a conduit for emotion, it can also provide conflict, characterize the story’s cast, reveal significant backstory, and trigger the reader’s own emotional memories through sensory details and deep point of view.

Inside The Urban Thesaurus, you’ll find:

  • A list of the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds for over 120 urban settings
  • Possible sources of conflict for each location to help you brainstorm ways to naturally complicate matters for your characters
  • Advice on how to make every piece of description count so you can maintain the right pace and keep readers engaged
  • Tips on utilizing the five senses to encourage readers to more fully experience each moment by triggering their own emotional memories
  • Information on how to use the setting to characterize a story’s cast through personalization and emotional values while using emotional triggers to steer their decisions
  • A review of specific challenges that arise when writing urban locations, along with common descriptive pitfalls that should be avoided
  • Downloadable tools to help you plan each setting so you can choose the right one for a scene, providing the biggest storytelling punch

The Urban Setting Thesaurus helps you tailor each setting to your characters while creating a realistic, textured world readers will long to return to, even after the book closes.

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  1. 1
    Angela Ackerman

    Wonderful review–how great to get the perspective of a school teacher! (Becca used to teach , too!). I am very glad you think this will help you (sorry there’s no Regency one though, lol!)

    Have a terrific week, and happy writing!

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