With one foot in the fantasy world.

Review of Writing Active Setting by Mary Buckham

Writing-Active-Settings-box-jpgWriting the right amount of description to evoke a world  where characters live and breathe can be a bugaboo for writers.  Either we put too much setting in that has nothing to do with anything and the reader dozes off, puts the book down (heaven forbid), or skips to where the story is unfolding. There’s also the flip side of too much and that’s too little. This dilemma could lead the reader to develop the Goldilocks’s syndrome, only reading books that are just right. Heh. I wouldn’t blame them. Would you?

As a writer, I wanted to know how to write settings that would drop my readers smack in the middle of a world they’ve never been to and never want to leave. I was lucky to participate in a workshop taught by Mary Buckham about writing active settings.  She has a busy schedule now and doesn’t teach as often. By busy, I mean, she’s writing her own stories and being a USA bestselling and People’s Choice author.  Yay! She’s walking the walk.

Anyway, she has a new print and e-book of “Writing Active Setting – The Complete How-To Guide.”  It’s a lifesaver for beginning, as well as advanced writers.  This has all three of the Writing Active Setting books: Book 1 –  Characterization and Sensory Detail, Book 2 –  Emotion, Conflict and Back Story, Book 3 – Anchoring, Action, as a Character and More.  Plus Mary has added bonus material all on hooks.  What I love about this complete guide is everything is in one place.  The real winner of the books are the examples from a slew of well-known authors which Mary has deconstructed.  Each line is analyzed, so you understand what the author was going for.  But she doesn’t stop there, Mary writes a hypothetical first draft and a second draft that the author might have started with, so you can see the progression.  It makes it easy to grab hold of the concept and learn how these great authors write active settings.

The following is from the book description of what you will learn:

* Discover the difference between Ordinary Setting that bogs down your story, and Active Setting that empowers your story.

* See how to spin boring descriptions into engaging prose.

* Learn to deepen the reader’s experience of your story world through sensory details.

* Notice how changing characters’ POV can change your setting.

* Explore ways to maximize the setting possibilities in your story.

* Learn to use Setting to quickly anchor the reader into the world of your story.

* Use Setting as movement through space effectively.

* Explore Setting in a series.

* Find Out the most common Setting pitfalls.

These books go straight to the point, putting theory in plain language, adding examples from authors in a variety of genres, and finishes each section with exercises designed to help you work with your Setting in a way that will excite you. . .and your readers!”

Mary+Buckham-For-WebUSA Today Bestselling author Mary Buckham credits her years of international travel and curiosity about different cultures that resulted in creating high-concept urban fantasy and romantic suspense stories. Her newest Invisible Recruit series has been touted for the unique voice, high action and rich emotion. A prolific writer, Mary also co-authors the young adult sci-fi/fantasy Red Moon series with NYT bestseller Dianna Love.

Mary lives in Washington State with her husband and, when not crafting a new adventure, she travels the country researching settings and teaching other writers.   Please visit Mary’s website for more information.  To buy the book set, go here: Amazon.

If you want to soar, I highly recommend “Writing Active Settings – The Complete How-To Guide.”   Do you have a way of writing settings that you can share?

Till next time,

E. W.


36 responses

  1. Thank you Elizabeth for an amazing review of this final, pull-it-all-together book. Outstanding job and here’s sending some magic pixie dust your way for your own writing! Cheers ~ Mary B 🙂

    February 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    • Thank you, Mary, for all that you have taught me. I must admit I miss getting those gold stars. heh. BTW, thank you for replying to everyone’s comments and questions. You’re the best.

      February 26, 2014 at 9:15 pm

  2. Oh, I’m definitely one that over-writes my setting. It’s my main writing tick. Can’t seem to part with it. I thrive on explaining all that my character’s see. It’s in the second draft that I slice-n-dice. Off to visit Mary’s site and purchase that ebook. Thanks so much for sharing this. BTW – my CREED looks fabulous on your site. THX!

    Sheri at Writer’s Alley
    Home of Rebel Writer CREED 2014
    Mighty Minion Bureau Team #atozchallenge

    February 26, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    • marybuckham

      Sheri ~ you’re not alone 🙂 It’s good to honor your process and I try not to mess with that at all. What I have you do is look at the intention behind when and where you use setting details to power up key areas of your writing–adding emotion, showing characterization, revealing back story. All those fun elements and more that can be shown not told via setting. Who knew 🙂 Thanks for swinging by and love the Writer’s Rebel Creed, too!

      February 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    • I think over writing is easier to work with too little because you have something more to sculpture, to cut away. BTW, I love your creed. “Dream Big!” Thanks for stopping by.

      February 26, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      • Your posting really strnighteaed me out. Thanks!

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        May 24, 2017 at 12:10 pm

  3. This sounds like a great book. When I’m having trouble with a scene, if I’ll just sit back and look at it, most of the time I’m trying to say too much. When I cut out a lot of the descriptions, it works. Thanks for the review of the book.

    February 26, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    • marybuckham

      Great approach Beverly! It means you’re looking at the intention behind the setting details. Too many of us start out by describing things without any thinking about what those things mean to the story. 🙂 Gold stars to you! Thanks for swinging by and sharing ~ Mary B 🙂

      February 26, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      • Wow! Thanks for the gold stars. I appreciate them. 🙂

        March 3, 2014 at 1:58 am

  4. I have the opposite problem — my first drafts are chock full of the dreaded talking heads (no, not the band, worse luck). I was lucky enough to take the Active Setting class when Mary was still Active Teaching (with my buddy, Elizabeth). She helped me find ways to ground the reader in those conversations. The book is the next best thing to having Teacher Mary sitting at your shoulder, giving you the benefit of her sage advice.

    February 26, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    • marybuckham

      LOL! EJ ~ you’re lovely – thank you! The challenge with being both writer and an instructor is making sure your practice what you preach. 🙂 Which, for moi, meant taking off the instructor hat so I could devote more time to the writing of fiction. Glad the books help fill that gap between first hand feedback from a craft teacher and thanks so much for sharing and giving me a great smile for the day!! Cheers 🙂

      February 26, 2014 at 7:33 pm

  5. Hi Elizabeth and Mary,
    This book sounds really good. I’ll put it on my wish list. Thanks so much Elizabeth for sharing.
    I keep slipping into passive voice. Which one of your books would help the most on that subject? (I can only buy one at this time.)

    February 26, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    • marybuckham

      Hi Bonnie and thanks for a really challenging question. Love it! Passive voice IMO most often occurs when we’re moving our characters about on the page as if directing a theater production. Move here. Stand there. Talk, Stop talking. 🙂 So it’s an issue of point of view and being in our writer’s head and not our character’s head. One of the reasons I crafted the Setting books was to get you as the writer seeing/experiencing the setting from your character more which helps with the showing not telling and the speed bump of a passive voice. If you’d like to try the Book 1 in the series – which is only $2.99 – it’s a great start on avoiding passive voice. Try the first section on characterization and if that doesn’t work return it 🙂 Otherwise I’d look at a book on Deep POV. I don’t know any specific titles but focusing on that craft element can go a long way towards helping avoid passive writing. Hope this helps and thanks for asking!

      February 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      • bonniegill

        Thanks so much. I just downloaded the first book and look forward to reading it.

        February 26, 2014 at 7:47 pm

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        May 15, 2017 at 9:52 pm

  6. This sounds pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    February 26, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    • marybuckham

      Hi Kelly ~ thanks for swinging by today and taking time to post a comment. Hope your writing is going well!

      February 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

  7. I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE Mary’s books on Settings–I have all three individually. They’re probably the best master course on effective use of setting I’ve ever seen. One issue that I still struggle with is how much setting to introduce when for an urban fantasy type story where there are significant differences in the story world vs. the ordinary world of the reader. I’m trying to look at every individual fact and decide if the reader has to know that fact NOW or if it can be deferred to a later point in the story (or maybe not even revealed in this book at all!) Is there a more efficient, effective way to do that, do you know? If so, I’d love to hear it.

    February 26, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    • marybuckham

      Hi Meg and thank you for your lovely feedback! Way to make my day 🙂 I think what you’re wrestling with is a process issue rather than a right vs wrong way to approach specifics in your stories. Since I write Urban Fantasy too, which requires a lot of world building and not only in setting but in characters, spell casting, preternatural abilities, etc., I’ve learned to write the initial draft including whatever I need as the author to make the scene clear. And yes, that can include TMI 🙂 Then I try to set it aside even for a week or so. Second version I read aloud, to hear what’s on the page, and that helps me approach the story in a different direction. Then come a few key Beta readers whose only task is to tell me where they need more information or less. I make sure one of them is new to the series because you’re writing to two different target audiences and must meet both needs. It’s a complicated process but what we’re writing are complicated stories and I think one of the prices we pay are the time required to do exactly what you’re doing. The more we do it the easier it is to start streamlining the process but based on the NYT authors I know and admire, they take the time and attention to detail that you’re talking about. That said ice cream or red wine can make any process more effective (as long as you indulge after and not before you write!) Best of luck with your writing and thanks for swinging by today!

      February 26, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      • Thanks, Mary! I will definitely take the ice cream and wine suggestions to heart. Urban fantasy is hard to write because of the need to establish that story world believably and yet without doing a “data dump” on the reader. Thanks for the suggestions re: the beta readers too.

        February 26, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    • , November 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm Xa#A;&n8230xan interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers…

      May 15, 2017 at 7:46 pm

  8. Samantha MacDouglas

    These sound great! I took a couple of classes with Mary and found them very helpful, I will definitely get the books!

    February 26, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    • marybuckham

      Hi Samantha and how fun to see your smiling face here! That’s the challenge of teaching an online class – you see names and email addies but not faces. I love getting the chance to put faces to people and to catch up with how they’re doing. Hope your writing is thriving and thank you for visiting today and sharing! Cheers ~ Mary B 🙂

      February 26, 2014 at 7:50 pm

  9. Hi Mary – Hi Elizabeth,

    Great topic. Our character’s worlds really do anchor them.

    I like to include the setting in the first couple of sentences – really ground my POV character, which grounds the reader, I think.

    Your books sound amazing Mary – I’ll have to check them out.

    February 26, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    • marybuckham

      Hi Paula! Lovely to connect with you here. Smart writer that you understand what I call the power of anchoring the reader quickly and cleanly into the opening of a scene or chapter. So many writers assume the reader should know where they are or what the passage of time is between the end of one scene and the beginning of another – and it’s so easy to lose the reader at these key points. I love studying writers who understand and apply anchoring techniques because they tend to keep me turning those pages easily. Thanks for sharing and posting! Cheers ~ Mary B 🙂

      February 26, 2014 at 7:54 pm

  10. I usually have to go back and add setting elements into my writing. A pet peeve of mine is chunks of setting description that fail to interact or impact the characters. I don’t care that there’s a fluffy blue rug on the floor. Let a character fall to her knees on it and sink into the padding like a calm ocean. 🙂

    February 26, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    • marybuckham

      You’ve got it Sarah – too many writers think of setting as having little or no direct connection to what’s happening in their story so they either 1) write it in big chunks or 2) leave it out <reader shifts focus to figure out where they are to understand context of what's happening or 3) periodically throw in a generic setting word and figure that covers the issue . But learning to use setting to show emotion (like your description above), explain back story, anchor the reader into the passage of time in the story, convey conflict ~ there’s so much that setting can layer into a story – once we as writers understand how to maximize it!
      Thanks for taking the time at the end of your day to visit and share!
      Cheers ~ Mary B 🙂

      February 26, 2014 at 11:53 pm

  11. Mary, thank you for being here today. Even your responses are learning gems. 🙂

    February 27, 2014 at 12:52 am

    • marybuckham

      Thank you Elizabeth for having me. It’s a good day when I get to hang out with you and such fun writers!

      Cheers ~ Mary B 🙂

      February 27, 2014 at 2:09 am

  12. Such a great post thank you Elizabeth! Have bookmarked it.

    February 28, 2014 at 8:04 am

    • Thanks for stopping by Susan. BTW, good luck with April’s month long blogging. 🙂

      February 28, 2014 at 3:27 pm

  13. Lisa

    Hi Elizabeth, I’ve arrived via Jodi Henley’s blog. 🙂

    I found this post on Mary Buckham’s boxset and I’ve just this minute bought the ebooks. I’m looking forward to putting what I read into practice. Thank you for the review! 🙂

    March 1, 2014 at 9:27 am

  14. Lisa,

    Thanks for following me from Jodi’s blog. 🙂 I think you will love this set. Would love to hear back from you after you read some of it. Whatever you do keep writing.

    March 1, 2014 at 3:34 pm

  15. ravenlaw

    I’m a blabbermouth when it comes to setting, but Mary’s setting class really helped me to figure out how to salvage the best of the setting details. I still overwrite my setting, but now I know how to go back in and pull out what’s important. (and toss the rest!) The setting box set is a must for writers. It’s a keeper on my bookshelf, that’s for sure!

    Laurel Wilczek

    March 6, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    • marybuckham

      Thanks so much Laurel for stopping by and sharing. Delighted you’ve been able to identify your natural process (over writing) and by using some of the techniques I describe in the books (and taught online while I was teaching) have a stronger handle on how to access which setting in your story works and why and what to toss and why 🙂
      Can’t wait to see your work in print!
      Cheers and all the best ~ Mary B 🙂

      March 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I love your comments and will reply here and in your blog. Brazen of me to ask but would you subscribe to my blog.

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