The Rural Setting Thesaurus
The best way to grow in one's writing skills will always be to read a lot and write a lot. However, over the past year or so, I have come to learn that reading and writing are not ALL it takes to grow in one's writing skills and make it in the writing industry. Instead, one must gain knowledge from every possible source one can. That means listening to podcasts like Marissa Meyer's Happy Writer Podcast and reading writing aid books like the ones I describe in my writing aid book summary.
One of the most popular writing aid books (or series rather) of today is the Thesaurus series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. These women have put together an astounding number of words into books like The Rural Setting Thesaurus, The Urban Setting Thesaurus, and The Emotion Thesaurus. Each book in the collection can aid a writer in both the writing and editing stage when they blank on that word they need or cant think of sounds, sights, and smells to insert in a setting. The books are so popular that it is difficult to find them second-hand or at a library. I didn't have access to them until my mother kindly bought me my own copy for Christmas. I have been in the process of reading the Rural Setting Thesaurus since then.
The books are definitely worthy of their status as highly sought-after writing aids. The Rural Setting Thesaurus has a huge selection of settings ranging from forests, mountains, and rivers to gardens, schoolyards, and block parties. One could, in theory just read the thesaurus to find the best settings for their book, chapter, or scene. Do you have a romance occurring? Look for a scene that will provide you with a romantic backdrop. Or look for one that won't and as a result, will provide the conflict you will need for your book. The book has a plethora of ideas for settings in a novel and discusses not only the people you might find there but also the kinds of conflicts that might occur in such a place.
But that's not even the best part about the book! The Rural Setting Thesaurus (and presumably most of the authors' other setting thesauruses) provide a range of different sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feelings that your character might experience in each of the settings. Is your character in the garden? They might feel cool dirt on their fingers or sweat dripping down their forehead. They might taste a juicy tomato or a cool glass of lemonade. They might see bugs skittering across the ground. Perhaps they will hear the sound of the shovel squishing into moist dirt again and again. And they may smell fertilizer or herbs.
For each of the settings in this book (and there are many), there are 20+ sights, and 5-15+ items under each of the other senses. It has been a wonderful resource for me while I was editing m,y novel The Criminal over again. In my previous draft of The Criminal, I didn't do a wonderful job of describing most of my settings. About 75%-80% of my settings are located within a dense forest. That being said, just about all of the settings sounded the same. The same birds cried and the same trees rustled making it sound as though my characters were in the same setting and time period the entire book. To make matters worse, I had my characters sit on, lay next to, or trip over a rotting log in nearly every scene. By the time I was reaching the end of my book in my read-through and edit, I was angrily crying out to myself and nearly tearing the pages in frustration. But the Rural Setting Thesaurus helped with that. Instead of only revealing the sights
(and occasional sounds) in my settings, I began to include feelings, smells, and tastes as well. I removed the logs (most of them, at least) and replaced them with other things one might find in a forest. Slowly, my settings began to come together and got more visible to the imaginary eye.
The book is by no means perfect. Quite often, the author says (and I quote) "Some settings have no specific tastes associated with them beyond what the characters might bring into the scene (chewing gum, mints, cigarettes, etc.) For scenes like these, where specific tastes are sparse, it would be best to stick to descriptors from the other four senses." I personally found that when she said this, there were often 3-5 tastes I could think of being present in the setting. Sweat on lips and dirt or dust in the mouth we common tastes that might appear in a huge plethora of settings in the book, particularly those outside (which most of them are since it is the Rural Setting Thesaurus). I would have liked to have seen the authors put in more effort to determine tastes for these settings but overall, there was a huge number of senses described for a huge number of scenes.
The best thing about The Rural Setting Thesaurus is not the items described or the conflicts one could use, nor is it the examples of paragraphs set in each of the settings. Rather, I found the best thing about this book to be the overall inspiration it provides. The Rural Setting Thesaurus gets you thinking about the kinds of senses you could use in your setting. Even if you don't have your character sense any of the things listed, it gets you thinking about the kind of things you could use and reminds you to use every single sense (not just sight and sound). I am incredibly thankful that I got to read this book and hope to get my hands on as many of the books from this series as I can in the future. If you are an author, I highly encourage you to find yourself a copy.