Don’t Be Like Alice: Ground Readers in Your World

It’s never a great experience feeling like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. It’s even worse when readers aren’t grounded in your story.

What’s meant by grounding?

The best way to think of grounding is as the thick piece of rope that tethers a hot air balloon filled with hot air to the ground. Without the rope, the balloon would float on up into the sky.

Looking at grounding a different way, it’s the story’s setting. It’s where your story takes place.

International_hot_air_balloon_festival_in_leon_guanajuato_mexico_02There are three ways to ground a story:

Time. There are two main meanings of time in a story. The first is the time over which a story takes place. Does the entirety of the story happen over the course of a week? A month? A year? How about each chapter within the story? Does, say, chapter one occur during the mid-afternoon? What if the protagonist doesn’t know the time of day? Similar to this is the time period in which the story occurs. Many romance novels relate to the time period they occur in. A Victorian romance is not the same as one that takes place in Ancient Greece, and neither of those two romances are the same as a modern day one.

The other meaning of time deals with time in relation to what else is happening in the story. For example, the protagonist has cancer and has three months to live. He has a bucket list and he wishes to complete his list before he dies. Another example is a character who gets infected with a lethal virus and has seventy-two hours to save himself before he dies. A third example is a protagonist who has to find her missing friend and shelter before sundown because that’s when all the supernatural creatures come out to play.

Place. This is the storyboard. It’s what the audience is seeing, where the story is taking place. A good way to think of place is in terms of a movie. If your story was a movie, what would movie goers see on the big screen? The location of the story changes how the story is perceived by readers. A setting in a small mid-Western town is very different than a story taking place in New York. More so, a story occurring on a different, exotic world is significantly different than a story set on Earth.

Event. What is the key event in a given portion of the story? How are other aspects of that story grounded around that main event? For instance, if the main event of a story is a massive explosion at an amusement park, what leads up to that event? Likewise, what follows that event (the primary, secondary, and tertiary fallout(s))? What are the relations of smaller sections of a novel to the goal of the piece?

It’s easy to skimp on the setting of a novel, but without a clear picture of time, place, and event, readers won’t be grounded. So, take the time to flesh out your setting. Make sure readers will be grounded in your story.

How have you helped ground your story?

3 thoughts on “Don’t Be Like Alice: Ground Readers in Your World

  1. yeesiuwaa

    I strongly agree with you! I have read a lot of stories which the authors have already ignored the limitation brought by their setting – if the setting cannot be indicated correctly, the story will not be reliable.


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