Lesson No. 3: Plotting the Setting: Labeling, Mapping and Coding


Welcome back! This week, we are going to analyze the entire narrative, to date, and critically consider how the multiple settings work together in the overall “setting arc.” This week, our work will be organizational and critical, almost mathematic. Previous to this point, we have been in a generative state, the happy and messy process of creating the draft. Now, we are going to put on our analyst hats, and we’re going to use digital tools in order to “trick” our minds into viewing the narrative from an analytical and logical point of view.

We will be using Google Maps and MS Word to track, label and code the settings to date so that we can critically consider the characters’ movements, the seasons and landscapes, how the setting supports the characterization and how the setting might complete a cyclical course throughout the narrative. Each step in this process can take as little or as much organizational time as you are willing to give it. For writers who thirst for left brain processes within the primarily right brain craft of writing, this week’s activities might very well give you the moment of “aha” you’ve been waiting for. For writers who avoid left brain activities, do not fret. This process is a step by step set of tools that will guide you through the nasty business of analysis and make it comfortable for even the most devoutly right-brained. Give it a chance, you might find this to be your editorial best friend.

Labeling the Settings: MS Word

Open your narrative in MS Word and complete the following:

  • Locate the Styles feature in MS Word to create custom headings for your settings.
  • Give each chapter heading in your narrative, a “Heading 1” style. Here is a quick help tutorial on Style Basics in Word.
  • Find the first “place” in the narrative where a setting is described in detail. Create an extra space before this paragraph and give the setting a short title. Make sure to give each setting title a month and a year as well.
  • Give this setting title a “heading 2” style format.
  • Now, continue through the narrative and title each new setting. When the setting cycles back to a previous setting, title this too. You are going to “track” the setting as it moves through the manuscript.
  • When all your narrative settings have been titled/labeled and given a “heading 2” style, open the MS Word doc in “outline form.” Click VIEW/OUTLINE. Tutorial: Use Outline View to Manage Headings and Arrange Text.
  • Open the “sidebar” in the “document map pane” view. Set the “outline tools” to Level 2. You should see a list of chapter titles and setting titles in both the sidebar and the main view screens. You are going to use this lit to not only create your Narrative Setting Map, but also to critically consider your settings and who they flow through the narrative.

Mapping the Settings: Google Maps

Use the above link to access Google Maps and complete the following:

  • Create a custom Google map and label it as your narrative title. Set the Google map to show “terrain.”
  • Create pins for each of your setting locations in the narrative.
  • Create travel directions for any trips and travel the characters take.
  • Save this custom Google map to your Google account and copy the map’s site url. Paste this url into the cover page of your narrative or in the header below the page number for quick and easy access to your setting map. Use this map to not only quickly scout areas and local businesses, use it to view the landscape, study the movements of the characters, get a feel for how the setting flows through the narrative.  You can export a pdf of your map, share your map and embed your map. Export a copy of the map either by pdf or screenshot. You are going to submit this map as part of your assignment this week.


Coding the Settings: MS Word

Return to your narrative’s MS Word “outline view. Complete the following:

  • Now, you are going to color code the seasons and settings of the narrative. First, identify the season of the opening. If your narrative opens during the fall, you’ll color all the text orange, for autumn, until the narrative moves into winter then you will color all of that text as blue. This color coding will quickly and easily remind you to pay attention to the landscapes as you continue to revise the narrative. Additionally, when you move sections around during your revision, you’ll quickly identify when a spring section has been moved into the autumn section and make the necessary adjustments to place, air temperature, landscape, etc. The following color code is a good one, as it follows conventional assumptions of seasons and will quickly trigger your analyst brain to tap into the season and landscape in each section of the narrative: Autumn, Winter, Spring, SummerIt is suggested that you keep the color coding and setting labels throughout the revision process as they will make any revisions easier to track.
  • While keeping the Google map handy for reference and critical consideration, study the outline of your settings. How does the ending point reflect the origin point? How do the characters cycle back through the settings? Look up images of the settings at particular seasons you’ve written them. For instance, if you wrote a winter scene in New York, find a Google image of a New York street scene in December. Don’t underestimate the power of actually visualizing the world in which your characters live.
  • Ask if the characters have explored the local surroundings of each individual setting? How do the seasons reflect the character arcs and motivations in either parallel or ironic ways? For instance, do the protagonist and antagonist get into their most “heated” fight during the winter? By isolating the seasonal analysis, you can focus on the layers of the narrative and it’s settings, allowing you to subtly weave and marinate. Your reader may not pick up on all the subtle relationships, in isolation, but your reader will sense the craft and workings and how it affects the overall narrative.
  • As you consider the settings in “outline view,” you can click on the setting titles and open the text and read each section in isolation. As you do this, consider how each of the settings reflect the characters and motivations of the narrative? What can be added and cut in order to give the setting a narrative of its own, within the larger narrative? Use this isolation and outline view to give the setting an arc. For example: in Beloved, the characters travel a great distance from Sweet Home, Kentucky, to 124 Bluestone Road just outside Cincinnati. If a reader were to track Sethe and Paul D’s travels, s/he could Google Kentucky plantations and find one in London, Kentucky. Then s/he could Google Cincinnati farmhouses for sale—built before 1900, land, 1 bath—and find a home and address to map. The reader would know that the walk from London, Kentucky to Cincinnati would be about 170 miles and would take about 60 hours. The reader could actually view the terrain, as it is now, through Google’s Earth map.