How to spice up setting with an event (#IWSG blog hop)

How to spice up setting with an event

In Jessica Strawser’s debut Almost Missed You, two characters have a life-changing date at Cincinnati’s Lumenocity, an orchestra-curated light-show. Anyone remember the scene when Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimble slips into Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to evade pursuers? How much more exciting does Pride and Prejudice become once the Bennett sisters have a ball to look forward to? Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper wouldn’t have been quite so tension-filled without the London Blitz as backdrop.

Some of these events are more integral to plot than others, but all of them make the stories they’re included in more interesting as a result. In the case of Almost Missed You, the couple could have had their life-changing date in a park sans event, but the story wouldn’t have remained as fresh in my mind these two years after I read it. In The Fugitive, Richard Kimble could have slipped into any old crowd, but I doubt the scene would have become so iconic. When Austen tells us the girls are waiting for a ball, we wait with as much anticipation as they do for its arrival. And if The Secret Keeper had been set in post-war London, I wouldn’t have been on the edge of my reading seat, waiting for Morton’s foreshadowing to play out and threaten the life of one of the characters I was becoming attached to.

Whether it’s plot-integral or not, here are some event ideas to run by your muse:

You could think big: festivals, parades, outdoor concerts, flash mobs, movies-in-the-park, marathons, conventions, fundraisers, protests, or political rallies.

Or you could think smaller: a game of pickup-tag, ultimate Frisbee, tee-ball, or any other type of activity suitable for a local park. A birthday or retirement party, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a wine tasting, an office potluck, a funeral procession, a pub crawl, or a school field trip.

How to spice up setting with an eventYou could also think a little farther outside the box: a lot of cities have evening ghost tours. I don’t know if Comic-Con has after-parties, but that would be fun. Mermaid costume day at the beach, anyone? Maybe a big movie is being shot in your novel’s town, and there’s an extras’ casting call, line winding around the local community center.

Or, if you’re writing historical fiction, you could think period specific: In the nineties’ heyday of MTV and Much Music (Canada’s MTV), I went to my share of school dances where they set up a big screen so we could watch the videos while we danced (video dance parties.) There were a lot of impromptu games of marbles around me in the eighties. Further back still, a quick search tells me I was born the year of Three Mile Island’s nuclear accident, China’s one-child policy establishment, and Margaret Thatcher’s electoral victory, so a crappy year all around.

A few additional considerations:

  1. Your characters could be participating in the event, but they don’t have to be: for instance, a couple is in their backyard waiting for the kidnappers to call with the time for the ransom drop. Meanwhile, there’s a pool party next door, sounds of children laughing, and balls flying over the fence.
  2. The event doesn’t have to be happening during the scene: perhaps your character is walking to a job interview the morning after a big Mardi Gras night, and NOLA streets are filled with plastic cups, garbage cans are overflowing, and gutters are clogged with strings of beads.
  3. The event doesn’t have to take up a lot of the scene’s word count to make an impact: maybe your character is driving over a bridge, and you make a quick reference to the dragon boat race making its way underneath at the same moment.

Have you ever weaved an event into plot? Have you ever weaved in an event that was less integral to plot or not at all integral?

I wrote this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping or to join the hop, click here. (There are more than 200 of us, and it’s fun!)

82 thoughts on “How to spice up setting with an event (#IWSG blog hop)

  1. Two things – Don’t forget all the great parades, festivals, castles and casinos 007 dropped into! Quick – How many bad guys/good guys/spies/femme fatales and damsels in distress have run into movie theaters/opera houses/concert halls?

    I had a scene, from two sides of the fence at an outdoor concert. Lots of foreshadowing and character dev and detail. Stuifling heat in slow moving cars, barfing drunks, bad bands and good bands. musicians and spectators. Not one but several beta readers and several editor glances ALL said “Do we really need this?” and a flag football game got dumped for the same reason. “Bring up how it went down with highlight discussions dialogue post event, we don’t need to go there.” However I have a (fake) celebrity charity softball team that no one is talking me out of. So.

    Great ideas, thanks! I think the trick to events, large or small, is to weave them in as vital and some pivotal story point transpire in the middle of them, and not “Well, here we are at…” I always think about the Astrodome and Brewster McCloud and the damn drainage ditches in LA where EVERY cop and private eye has at least one chase scene.

    A hundred years ago I played “space music” synthesizers accompanied by lasers and strange film in planetariums. I don’t suppose parking characters amongst stoners getting seasick and/or freaking would be good, save in some esoteric fashion…but it is more original than the movie theater bit.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a spot on post. I recently wrote a short story with a movie happening in a small town. My main character went to a cosplay event, the tryouts, but only with the intent to dress up and be anybody else but her 🙂 Not to win. I love the park ideas and the tee-ball game! Wow! Thank you. Happy IWSG Hop Day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tips! I think we all include events in our stories at some point, but few see it with the insights you shared here. In my case, it usually acts as a plot device. However, I will try making my fictional events more purposeful here onwards. 😀

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      1. Hahaha! Always looking at the bright side, the spirit, eh?!
        Yeah. It might be seen as that. Time for reflection. Can’t wait to hear the big news 😃


  4. Great post! I struggle with the ‘background noise’ to my scenes. It’s something I have to actively think about when writing and it’s usually filled in more on edits. That said I have on a small scale mentioned events. Being in a coffee shop on Halloween and the mention of kids and adults in costumes. A date at a comedy club. Nothing extravagant but little things so it’s not only my characters. It’s a work in progress to add more.

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  5. I often include random “events” and tangents to make a scene more interesting. I sometimes worry that the reader might find them distracting (or get confused because they have nothing to do with the plot), but I usually go by the rule of thumb that if I find it interesting (or usually, funny), then it’s staying in.

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  6. Excellent point, Raimey. I never really thought of it that way, but I’ve always included a big event or two in each novel: community harvest festival, a wedding, a memorial service, a street fair, a 10K race. I’m just starting a new project, and I’ll look for more opportunities to weave special events into my plot–an especially good tip for authors like me who set their stories in the modern world, minus magic, bombs, serial killers, dragons,etc.

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  7. You’ve got me thinking! I don’t know if I’ve actively thought about doing this – but I have done it. In one, the event was an early release from prison for a killer. That was fun! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love this! I recently crafted a scene involving the opening of a new store in a previously blighted block. It gave me the opportunity to put a lot of otherwise unconnected characters together in one place.

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  9. Absolutely wonderful advice. Adding something as simple (though I don’t think it really is a simple thing) as an event offers so many possibilities. Doors may open that the writer never anticipated. I’m taking this advice to heart for my WIP.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think we focus too much on description when we should be using action to move the scene along. Description can be sprinkled in but not overpowering. Great post! I love adding events to scenes. I plan to add a big fall festival to my MG glamping murder mystery!

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  11. Great idea to add an event in story. It can broaden the scope. But the event should be somehow connected to the story as a whole, I think. Thanks so much for sharing this with your followers, Raimey. Merry Christmas, my dear!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We can always count on you for a highly useful post, Raimey. The first time I heard the expression ‘setting as character’ I’ve been hooked on playing with setting in my stories. Even in real life, it’s fun to consider my surroundings from a ‘character’ perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nice tips! Thank you for picking your brain for us writers. I can see how having the reader (and character) look forward to something upcoming picks up the pace. I should have my character think it: Oh, I’m going to confront my mother why she abandoned me. Ha!

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  14. Great post 🙂 I have main events my character is involved in (a wedding being one!) but I can definitely think of some events I can weave into the background of my stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a great way to think about it. I have been writing fiction that takes place in the future, and I realized after reading your post that I spend a lot of time trying to think about what fictional event might be happening in that time, and how the characters will interact with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is wonderful advice!
    Within the context of an event, be it major or minor, so much can be accomplished, from bringing various characters together in one spot… to character development via action/interaction… can be used for pacing… and so forth.
    Lots to think about.
    Have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year, Raimey! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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