3 Steps to Write Story Setting into the Action

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days at the end of the post.

We want our readers to picture the scene around them, but we don’t want to bore them with lengthy descriptions. Here are three easy steps to portray the setting in action.

Step 1

Have your point-of-view character take out her imaginary video camera and heft it to her eye. She must make sure the sound is on. 

Example: Marooned on an island, Reba takes out her video camera, which miraculously still works, and turns it on.

Step 2

Direct your character to slowly pivot around and look and listen for interesting or necessary things in her surroundings. You might even write a description of the scene’s setting.

Example: As Reba heads into the tropical forest she turns and looks back with her camera. She sees Paul, a fallen palm trunk, the beach with a white sand shore and rolling aqua waves. The waves crash and form a froth. As she enters the tropical forest her camera spots palms, yuccas, vines and other unidentified brush and trees. She exits the forest at a waterfall. Her camera picks up the fall’s crashing water that sends out sprays of cold water. She turns to the right and sees papaya and banana trees in clumps rising from a blanket of green grass. Bees buzz around them, and leaves flutter in the gentle breeze, making brushing sounds. To her left, Reba’s camera catches a wild thicket of tall grass.

Step 3

Now rewrite the description into the scene through the point-of view character’s actions and reactions, using the most interesting and necessary things the character saw in the camera. Take into consideration the scene’s pace as to how much camera sightings you include. Get creative.


Reba left Paul on the beach perched on a fallen palm trunk, aqua waves pounding the shore and turning into froth behind him. He fashioned a spearhead with shell shards and parts of coconuts. She turned to see if he’d follow her, but he didn’t look up. 

If only she knew the guy better. Didn’t he know they needed to learn whether the island was occupied? Apparently not. His lame spearhead was his macho reaction to first things to do. Self-protection. She plowed through hot white sand to the tropical forest beyond the beach, grumbling.

Reba pushed aside young palm tree’s leaves, circumvented yuccas, and ducked under drooping vines hanging from unidentified trees with massive roots. Rushing water became louder as she fought her way through the tropical jungle. Her heart beats quickened. Would a friendly tribe live in a village surrounding a waterfall? Or a mob of natives that had a craving for human flesh? 

She stepped through the last of the jungle. Water flooded over a cliff into a pool surrounded by exotic flowers. Awesome. Reba jogged to a wild orchard at the right of the fall. She snapped a banana from one tree and tugged a papaya loose from another. Wouldn’t Paul be surprised.

Whistling. Speak of the dev— Reba whipped around to the rustling tall thicket of grass opposite the orchard. A wild boar. Charging her. She froze. Paul leaped in front of her, and thrust his spear. The tusked black boar dropped to the ground. 

Hopefully, you picture the setting without paragraphs describing the scene.

What book do you think did a great job of giving the setting and why?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. Sally Jo Pitts

    I love this example and I’m trying to learn this technique (per your sister). I keep Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript handy when I’m writing. I especially use the “utterances”.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I’m so pleased that Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is of good use, Sally.

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