Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Pepper Basham


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

In Defense of the Beta Hero


In Defense of the Beta Hero

If you’ve read at least 10 romance stories, then there’s a good chance you’ve met an Alpha hero 8 out of 10 times, at LEAST. Alpha heroes are the popular types in most romance stories, regardless of genre. Sometimes, you can even tell from the cover of the book what sort of hero you’re getting! If the novel involves werewolves, vampires, or high-class businessmen, there’s a 99.9% chance, that hero is an alpha.

Now, this list is a more modern “romantic” hero list, not the classic/historical definition of alpha and beta. 

And let me say this up front - these are just my opinions, "more like guidelines really", but they're great talking points :)

 So...what is an alpha romantic hero? I’ll give you a quick definition because I want to get to the heart of this post. Those betas! 

This is NOT an exhaustive list of typical Alpha romantic hero characteristics, but a few general characteristics:

-        overtly strong and powerful.

-        The take-charge type

-        May not be the best verbal communicators

-        Demonstrate their commitment and love through actions

-        Presents as confident and protective

-        Can tend toward being controlling or demanding, 

-        Sometimes perceived as arrogant and/or aggressive

-        Definitely show off a grumpy side. 

-        Many times they’re the “untouchable” brooder

-        Highly competent in his world (but maybe not in love or self-knowledge) 

-        Their character arc is usually pretty big as the heroine delves into the hero's broken past to find the inner gentle side of him that only she can unearth, tame, and/or heal. 

-        Many would suggest these guys have a higher “sizzle” factor for romance

-        has to “thaw’ because he’s determined to hide his wounds and keep from being vulnerable at all cost. (but, of course, the heroine finds a way to help him).

-        usually very aware of his own power and how to use it to get people to do what he wants.

-        can often appear aloof or distant.

-        The “treasure” of the alpha hero is peeling back all the standoffishness to find the golden heart underneath (thus the reason why he is usually the hero chosen for romantic fantasy tropes).

In Defense of the Beta Hero

 Of course, as with any “category” there is margin, so not all alpha males are created equal. A few cinematic examples might be Gladiator, Maverick, Thor, Scarface, Sylvester Stalone ANYTHING, James get the idea.

The trick to a good alpha is this - he has a little beta in him.

 What is a beta romantic hero then? 

(They’re my favorites, btw). 

I often think of the alpha as the hunky daydream and the beta as the guy you’d actually want your daughter to marry. That’s not to say beta heroes can’t be hunky, it’s just that they’re not going to likely be the ones taking up so much space in the room with their personality. In the heroine’s heart? Well, that’s another story :-)

Unfortunately, betas get a bad rap because—compared to the alpha—they can be misconstrued as weak. This isn’t true at all. It’s just that their gentler approach to women, relationships, and life don’t stand out, initially, as much as the alpha’s personality does.

Here are a few beta characteristics:

-        A beta’s superpower is his relational awareness and abilities, usually.

-        He may have a tough backstory, but he’s either learned to work through it or cope with it through humor or deference.

-        Quieter strength

-        He can be just as interesting as an alpha when he enters a room, but he’ll likely cover the attention with humor, a story, conversation, or attention shifting.

-        May appear to not act as demonstratively as an alpha

-        Competent in his world

-        He is more likely to attempt to persuade or convince than demand.

-        His actions are usually less forceful and more communicative, unless provoked.

-        Sure, he can be as protective as the best alpha, when he needs to or feels like the people he loves are being threatened, but this is not his usual MO.

-        Instead of being physically aggressive or confrontational, he is more likely to work behind the scenes to get what he wants.

-        One thing I like most about a beta is that he “matches” the heroine. They’re a pair and you see that working out in the way they interact with each other as equals.

-        And though a beta may not have as pronounced a character arc as an alpha, because he’s human and flawed he still has great potential for growth.

-        Usually he’s not considered as swoony because he may not need as much obvious “saving” as the alpha, but betas can hide lots of hurt behind their smiles.

-        For the most part, these guys are generally well-rounded, somewhat more comfortable in their own skin, and usually have a more temperate disposition.

-        His milder ways do not equal pushover, but he is more likely to use his brain/emotions to solve problems rather than brawn/power.

-        He usually has more emotional intelligence about himself and others, even though he can be a numbskull with the best of them when it comes to relationships too (again...human).

-        A beta has long term potential that involves more than just fights and heated nights of passion (though he is just as capable of having both of those as an alpha.)

 The best betas have a little bit of alpha in them.

 Of course, the very best heroes are likely a blend of alpha and beta. Not sure what to call them? Alta? Belpha? Or...just perfect? :-)

 So...what types of heroes are in some of YOUR favorite books? Do you like variety or do you stick with a certain type?

 If you’re interested in reading a few of my beta heroes, I’d suggest taking a look at Henry from When You Look at Me, Titus from Jane by the Book, Alex from Charming the Troublemaker, David from The Thorn Keeper, Jonathan from My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge, August from The Thorn Healer, Jeremiah from The Red Ribbon, or Brodie from my upcoming release Authentically, Izzy :-) 



In Defense of the Beta Hero

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance “peppered” with grace and humor. Writing both historical and contemporary novels, she loves to incorporate her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is a wife, mom to five great kids, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus. Her first book with Thomas Nelson, Authentically Izzy, debuts November 15th! Pepper loves connecting with readers and other authors through social media outlets like Facebook &

You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website at

A Few Thoughts about Conferences...and Networking :)

The ACFW conference is on the horizon and after two years it's going to be great to have the chance to see folks in person again. I'm super excited to get the chance to as many author and reader friends as possible. Readers, you say? Well, THIS year, ACFW is also having StoryFest so readers can join in the fun, so it's double the fun for authors. We get a chance to see our writing buddies AND hang out with the folks who love our fictional people!!
But conferences can be great for more than just socializing and aggressively hugging folks. :) They are also good networking and marketing places. In case you haven't heard this enough on Seekerville, let me say it one more 'gin. 

A Few Thoughts about Conferences...and Networking :)

Visibility is important in marketing. 

Now, does that mean you need to spend all your time and money going to every writer's conference on the planet? No! I like people, but that sounds absolutely terrifying (and expensive) to me. However, if you DO go to a conference, then it's a great time to use your time well and engage in some friendly networking. 

1. Have a business card- for the newbies out there, this is a very good investment. It keeps you in people's minds longer than an introduction. It's also a good idea to have your photo on your card so that folks have both the auditory clue of your name/voice as well as a visual reminder of what you look like :)

2. Share the fun on social media - this is a great way for people who know you online to look for you if you're going to be at the conference. It's also helpful for those introverts who aren't as comfortable initiating contact with stranger, because you can find "your group" faster. In fact, the group may very well come to you if they know you're going to be present. (And, as always, social media is a great marketing tool anyway). 

3. Find your emotional support people - Like I said in #2, touching base with folks before you get to conference to let them know you're going to be there, sets up an opportunity for you to already have SOME people to hang out with. Plus, there's a good chance those people will know OTHER people, which then broadens your "visibility" within the community. You never know which connections will lead to the best connections. 

A Few Thoughts about Conferences...and Networking :)

4. Smile - yeah, yeah. This seems like a simple thing to share, but nerves can do crazy things to our facial expressions. Unless your smile is Joker-scary, then USUALLY smiles  are reciprocated AND have a tendency to make any face a little nicer. Smiles give off the vibe of approachable. I know not all of us may want to appear approachable, but you'll need to leave that side of you at home during the conference (or only pull it out when you're hiding in your hotel room after "people exhaustion". Bonus: ACFW is a Christian writer's conference, so we'd hope most people would be nice and approachable anyway. This is the time to branch out, put your best foot forward, and try to learn, grow, and build your community. I can assure you, most of the rest of us are there for the same thing and (don't tell anyone), but I still get nervous every time I go!

5. Being Prepared - sound weird to add this to visibility? Well, let me just say, folks who come in ready are more memorable. Ready to take advantage of the moment. Having those business cards, one-sheets, maybe a few first pages...those are great ways to show you've prepared to meet with folks. Also, preparing yourself by creating catchy elevator pitches is another. AND preparing your heart and soul through prayer and mutual encouragement is a great way too. 

Conferences can be crazy, but they can also lead to GREAT opportunities for you to network...and even build your own community of fellow I already knew some of the Seekers when I attended my first conference and immediately had a kinship with them. They introduced to other people. 

P.S. I support fangirling. That last photo is of me and Debbie Maccomber. I've also met Francine Rivers. I walked right up to them to introduce myself and tell them that I loved their books. (and I was nervous the whole time, I have this cool photo to share for visibility! LOL) 
Are you attending a conference soon? What would you like to learn more about as you prepare? Pitches? One-sheets? Business Cards? Etc. ?

Cutest Meet Cutes?


Cutest Meet Cutes?
As a romance writer (and just an all-around-romantic-y person), I am a BIG fan of a solid meet cute! A meet cute usually refers to movies, but as readers, we've begun to refer to them in books too. 

What is a meet cute, you ask?

If you've ever watched a rom-com, you already know, even though you may not be aware of it. 

A meet cute is that moment when two characters (who will form that lovely romantic connection in the story) meet for the first time. Usually, they meet in a humorous or "cute" sort of way, though more dramatic ways are fine too (think, P&P or Jane Eyre).

What a meet cute provides is a sudden spark, a "teaser" of more to come, a little look at how these two are going to interact together. 

It can reveal an immediate attraction or repulsion, but, of course (in our HEAs), the repulsion turns to attraction through the course of the story. 

Think of some of your favorite movies for examples. 

Here are a few "classic" examples:

Maria and Captain Von Trapp on The Sound of Music

- Why is it "cute"? She's dancing in the empty ballroom and he bursts into the room in all of his serious "state" :)

Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon from Singing in the Rain

-Why is it cute? As Don Lockwood (a famous silent film star) is trying to escape some rather energetic adoring fans, he jumps into Kathy Seldon's car.  Kathy, at first, is terrified of the "stranger" jumping into her car until she recognizes him, but pretends not too and then feeds Don a little humble pie :)

Cutest Meet Cutes?

Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly from You've Got Mail

-Why is it cute? Well, it's all the MORE cute because we (as viewers) know that Kathleen and Joe are already in an online relationship, yet the characters have never met in person (and don't even know each others' names). So when they meet for the first time in Kathleen's shop (and we know Joe is trying to take over little bookshops), we're already rooting for them. Hint: F.O.X.

One more?

Iris meeting Miles in The Holiday (which actually uses the term "meet cute" in it, but I also think when Iris meets Arthur Abbot, though it's not a romantic meet-up, just really sweet). 

There are tons of great meet cutes, both in historical and contemporary romances. The live-action Cinderella, Notting Hill, Return to Me, Kate and Leopold,...the list goes on!

But meet cutes happen in books too! I ADORE writing meet cutes!!

This is the couples' first meeting and, as a writer, it's a great opportunity to make the moment memorable and set up the "tension" well before we ever get to the life-long romance or HEA :) 

It's that first glimpse we, as readers, get of the dynamics of the hero and heroine! Usually, we have a little background on one or both characters so the the meet cute has a deeper meaning too. 

Cutest Meet Cutes?

Here are a few bookish ones that I love:

Amelia and Emerson's first meeting in the Amelia Peabody series

Sophie & Clay in Petticoat Ranch (Mary Conneally has some hilarious meet cutes). 

Hattie and Miller in Jenny B Jones's Sweet Right Here

Grace and Noah in Melanie Jacobsen's Kiss the Girl

and...of course, the list goes on.

What a meet cute does is build expectation. It gives a little hint into how these two are going to be the romantic leads of the story. Fun, right?

So let's hear it from you guys!

What books have you read that have some of your favorite meet cutes? 

(all photos are property of the author or taken from


Cutest Meet Cutes?

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance “peppered” with grace and humor. Writing both historical and contemporary novels, she loves to incorporate her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the wife of a fantastic pastor, mom of five great kids, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus. Her nineteenth novel, Authentically Izzy, debuts in November with Thomas Nelson. She loves connecting with readers and other authors through social media outlets like Facebook & Instagram. You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website at

Corn Shuckins, Bootleggin’, and Gun Slingin’, oh My! with guest Pepper Basham

Corn Shuckins, Bootleggin’, and Gun Slingin’, oh My! with guest Pepper Basham

Hi Seeker villagers! Carrie here, and I am delighted to host my dear friend Pepper Basham today! Her new book, The Red Ribbon, released October 1st as part of Barbour's True Colors historical true crime fiction series! Take it away Pepper, my Pepper!

Corn Shuckins, Bootleggin’, and Gun Slingin’, oh My!
(Or… What Writing My First Romantic Suspense Taught Me)

by Pepper Basham

On a little knoll overlooking the green rolling hills of Fancy Gap, Virginia, stands an old, white Queen Anne style house quite out of place among the country businesses and small houses scattered nearby. It had always been such a curious sight as I traveled from my house “below the mountain” to high school “above the mountain” in Carroll County, Virginia, where I grew up. The Sidna Allen House—a place which carried rumors of a courthouse shootout, nationwide manhunt, and a massive feud, and it all started with a kiss.

As a teenager driving the winding roads of the Appalachian Mountains, I don’t think I ever imagined delving into the true story of this scar on Virginia history. It’s not a happy story. It’s a true crime.

And as I began my research, many times, there appeared to be no REAL heroes. So when I took the opportunity to bring this unknown tragedy to light through fiction, I struggled with several things.

1.      How do I walk the fine line between truth and respecting the generations of families who still live in my hometown with the lingering effects of this story?

2.      How do I write a story about something that still rings with unanswered questions today?

3.      But most importantly, how can I bring grace into this tragic tale so that the readers will see the hope of Christ in the middle of tragedy?

I’m not a suspense writer, guys. I’m a ROMANCE writer. I write KISSING BOOKS. What on earth was I doing writing a TRUE CRIME fiction?

Well this tragedy starts with a kiss so that helped 😊

Plus, I added a few extra kisses to sweeten the deal.

But this story was dark. Sad. It peeled back the culture I love and shone light on its underbelly. Most of my family STILL live in Carroll County, so the way I handled this story mattered.

Here are a few things I learned.

1.      Writing suspense is painful 😊Seriously, I was sore from my jaws down after I finished this story. I like a little suspense here and there, but I’m not sure my body’s made for writing it on a regular basis. If you write suspense, do you have to see a chiropractor weekly or monthly? LOL

2.      Praise God for fictional characters! When I began working through the history of this story, my fictional hero, heroine, and a few secondary characters helped me weave hope, truth, and…romance into the darker creases of the true crime. Real people are fascinating, but sometimes, we just need to bring in a few make-believe people to round out the hardened edge of fact.

3.     Pain is pain, no matter the era, but kindness is universal too. Tragedy is no respecter of persons. Some pain we bring on ourselves and some happens to us because we live in a broken world. Life is HARD ya’ll! Writing this story just reminded me that pain has been around a long time, so has unforgiveness. What we all need is a lot more compassion, shorter fuses, quicker forgiveness, and quieter tongues. We also need a clearer perspective. Everyone has a backstory, and most of the time we don’t know the deeper hurts people carry which then influences their behavior. Compassion and kindness are universally beautiful and have the power to soften those hardened edges of tragedy and provide healing.

4.    We ALL need hope. Where would we be without it? At first, it was hard to find hope in the research of The Red Ribbon. The true events behind this story don’t have a happily-ever-after for many of the nonfiction characters, but as Christians we live in a dark world with the light of Christ’s hope shining into every shadow. It’s how we should think and breathe. And how much more light is needed when the story is so dark? That’s why, as Christians who write fiction, I think it’s important for us to keep that perspective. Our faith doesn’t have to preach on each page. It can be whispered throughout the story in the character’s actions, responses, and in the scenes, but of all things, our stories should carry the fragrance of hope within them. After all, we’re the storytellers of the God of Hope.

If Christ used story to bring truth and hope, it seems pretty natural for his kids to incorporate the same things into their stories. Don’t you think?

What books have you read lately that helped bring hope to your world? 

 About Pepper Basham & The Red Ribbon

Corn Shuckins, Bootleggin’, and Gun Slingin’, oh My! with guest Pepper Basham

An Appalachian Feud Blows Up in 1912
Step into True Colors -- a new series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime
In Carroll County, a corn shucking is the social event of the season, until a mischievous kiss leads to one of the biggest tragedies in Virginia history. Ava Burcham isn’t your typical Blue Ridge Mountain girl. She has a bad habit of courtin’ trouble, and her curiosity has opened a rift in the middle of a feud between politicians and would-be outlaws, the Allen family. Ava’s tenacious desire to find a story worth reporting may land her and her best friend, Jeremiah Sutphin, into more trouble than either of them planned. The end result? The Hillsville Courthouse Massacre of 1912. 

Amazon | B&N 

Corn Shuckins, Bootleggin’, and Gun Slingin’, oh My! with guest Pepper Basham

 As a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pepper Basham enjoys sprinkling her Appalachian into her fiction writing. She is an award-winning author of contemporary and historical romance, mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and a lover of Jesus and chocolate. She resides in Asheville, North Carolina with her family. You can learn more about her on her website, or connect on Facebook or Twitter.


Carrie is giving away a print copy of The Red Ribbon to one commenter! Can be international shipping as long as Book Depository ships to your country. 

What books have you read lately that helped bring hope to your world?

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction
with Beth Erin

Have you ever wanted to incorporate an unusual experience from your life into a story yet hesitated? As you read the following excerpt, I’d like to encourage you to be brave and honestly ask yourself, “Is my experience more unbelievable than facing off with a fearless hitchhiking mouse???” Read on then see what this author has to say about her experience…


Something tickled against Julia’s leg as she drove. She looked down but didn’t see anything. The cloth of her slacks must have shifted against her skin.

“What sort of house are you looking for?”

“Well, something with character and close to town.”

The tickle happened again. She shook her leg as Henry continued to talk. The tickle moved up to her knee. She glanced down, and her breath congealed into an unlocked scream in her throat.

On her knee, looking around as if it was the most normal thing to do, sat a tiny, brown field mouse.

“I’ve always loved the rock homes, or even barns people have refurbished to maintain the general appeal of Derbyshire’s countryside and architecture.”

Oh no! Henry! She had to keep him from knowing the mouse was in the car with them. After all, she’d promised to protect him. She focused her gaze forward and pushed words from her throat. “Rock houses? And…um…what do you mean exactly?”

He paused and examined her with those marble-like eyes. She forced a smile to encourage him, and with another hitch in the silence, he began explaining the beauty of the gray fieldstone homes sprinkled through the lush green hillsides the mouse moved an inch or two up her thigh. She held in a squeak but couldn’t keep her leg from jerking. Somehow, the little mouse completed a ninja move from the door handle to the edge of the dashboard nearest her window.

Stranger Than Fiction
And there it sat, staring at her with its round, black eyes, whiskers twitching as if it knew exactly who to visit next. Her stomach tensed. Her body froze. How could something so small be so unnerving?

Henry continued to talk, thankfully oblivious to the entire situation, but Julia quickly took inventory of the road ahead. One the right, the road dipped into a deep ditch. On the left, there was oncoming traffic.

Three cars.

When was there ever so much traffic on this isolated country road?

She gritted her teeth together.

When there was a mouse loose in her van and a mouse-phobic hero trapped inside, that’s when.

She examined the passing landscape. They weren’t going super fast, so maybe if she rolled down her window, she could just flick the mouse out.

Henry’s words came to a stop. She hadn’t heard one of them, but she conjured up another distracting question.

“How soon do you hope to buy a house of your own?”

He studied her again. “Like I said, as soon as possible. I’ve been saving a long time and had some solid success with my last few projects.”

“Oh, how wonderful. Which movies have been your favorite to write the music for?”

His wonderful voice filled the space again, and Julia reached over to roll down the window. Only an inch at first. The mouse didn’t move, just kept plotting.

Another inch.

His whiskers twitched.

Another car passed them on the left.

Another inch. Julia released her hold on the window button and began a stealthy ascent toward the furry rodent, but as the wind fluffed the back of the mouse’s fur, it took off…across the dashboard, stopping directly in front of Henry.

“There’s something about creating the unexpected and having others appreciate it that’s reward—”

Stranger Than Fiction
Yep. Henry saw the mouse. There was this moment of a stare-down between man and beast…well, not really. Could a little field mouse be referred to as a beast? From the expression on Henry’s face, maybe.

Julia tried to keep her gaze ahead and somehow prepare to vault in front of Henry should the little rodent decide to leap. She slowed her speed.

“In thirty seconds, I can pull over,” she whispered.

“It’s staring at me.” His voice rasped the words, his face frozen forward.

“I’ve never heard of anyone dying from a mouse attack. I promise. Twenty seconds and we’ll pull over.”

He’d gripped the armrests so hard his knuckles turned white. “I may have a heart attack in ten, because my pulse is playing a hard and fast drumroll in my ears.”

Julia accelerated. “Ten seconds.”

(shared with permission from When You Look at Me by Pepper Basham) 

author's note...

"I’d love to say this scene was fictional because the memory still causes an uncomfortable chill to move up my leg…a memory chill, I guess, but it wasn't. Thankfully, I was alone in my minivan on my way to work, but the entire scene played out pretty much like poor Julia sees it. And, of course, I’d was driving on the ONE STRETCH of country highway where I couldn’t pull over.

Needless to say, when I finally made it to work, I was still shaking…mostly with laughter, but shaking nonetheless.

What happened to the mouse? Well, you’ll have to read the rest of the scene to find out. Needless to say, the whole purse whomping incident was not exaggerated…and I’m sure there were some worried passersby who witnessed my madness too!" - Pepper Basham

further encouragement...

Just in case y'all might still be feeling a bit apprehensive about sharing your own experiences, you don't have to rely on only one example… I’ve collected several for your consideration!

“When the peacocks go on the attack in one of my books....yep, that happened to me at the zoo. Who would have thought..." (In Good Company) - Jen Turano

“A late-night skinny-dipping adventure off the coast of Akumal, Mexico, which turned into an unsettling experience when some guy walking along the beach spotted our swimsuits ... & sat down to wait until we came out, became an even more intense scene in my third novel, Altared." - Sharyn Kopf

“The family story that my grandfather ignored the rattlesnake under the table until he finished his fried chicken! Totally retold it in Still Waters!” - Lindsey P. Brackett

Stranger Than Fiction
“When my dad was in the army his troop was under attack so he and his friends jumped out a second-story window, landed and ran to safety. My dad landed on his feet (which is horrible for your body) and ended up with knees swelling to the size of volleyballs and damage there for the rest of his life. I gave the hero of my debut novel the same injury/cause.” - Jessica Keller

“In my first novel, Like There's No Tomorrow, with Ian the Scot and Emily the American... the part when Ian was nudged to pray for the person he hated, and how, after doing it and begrudgingly at first, over time, he felt a release from the hate and felt only compassion for the person. Based on a real-life experience of mine.” - Camille Eide

“This happened to me, and I wrote it into one of my contemporary novels.

I drove up to the drive-through window at the bank, removed the canister, put my transaction inside, and returned the canister to the Pneumatic Tube...then sat back and waited for the inside teller to greet me. She did not. In the meantime, cars on either side of me kept moving, which I thought was highly unfair. A couple cars pulled up behind me, and the third car back even honked, trying to “wake up” the teller I presumed. The longer I waited, the more impatient I grew. I even glanced back at one point and threw up my arms at the guy behind me. The grumpy driver did not respond.

After another minute or two, the speaker crackled and the teller said, “Are you just about done out there?” What? I imagine I gave her a dumb look, and that’s when it dawned on me! I had not hit the ‘send’ button. My canister had not even moved! Quick as a fly, I hit the button, shrunk down in my seat, and waited another minute. When the canister came back, I didn’t even bother to count the money. I just skedaddled out of the bank parking lot, hitting a curb on my way to the road. Halfway home, I glanced at the seat next to me. There was the canister!!! That poor, poor man who had been waiting behind me - not to mention the other customers!” - Sharlene Baker MacLaren

Whether your experience is hilarious or miraculous, scenes inspired by your life season stories with something precious and unique, YOU! Stranger than fiction moments are also a great opportunity to connect with your readers by sharing the real story in an author note or your newsletter or on social media! Embrace the outrageous story fodder God has blessed you with, writer friends! 

Have you used (or are you considering using) real-life stranger than fiction experiences in your stories? We'd love to hear them and your thoughts on the topic!

Stranger Than Fiction
Beth Erin is a Christian fiction enthusiast, book reviewer, and blogger. She strives to edify and connect with readers and authors at Faithfully Bookish and on social media. 

Beth also contributes to the Seekerville, Hoarding Books, and Diversity Between the Pages blogs. She is passionate about promoting authors and their entertaining, encouraging, and redemptive stories.

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper Basham

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper Basham

I just finished reading my first Amelia Peabody book and I have been completely captivated by the world Elizabeth Peters created. Now, I only picked it up as research for a work-in-progress of mine, but from the first chapter, I was drawn into the setting of Cairo and the arid environment in which Egyptologists and archeologists saturated themselves to uncover ancient relics.

Elizabeth Peters’ book was thick with a world I’d never experienced, but through her story, I traveled to Egypt, felt the busy-ness of Cairo’s streets, and even delved into an ancient mystery.

How did she help me travel there? And how do we make that happen in our stories?

One of my favorite things in writing (besides developing characters! I LOVE creating characters!!) is helping my readers get a sense of place in the storyworld they’ve entered.

I could really write three separate posts on this issue, one on each of my points, but I’ll try to sum it up 😊

  1. Know your setting
  2. Take the Organic Approach
  3. Move the senses

Know Your Setting

First things first, get to know your setting. Of course, this is for obvious reasons – if you don’t know your setting, how on earth are you going to describe it for others to experience?

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper BashamThere are different way to do this:

A. Traveling to the places
B. Massive research
C. The Author’s own imagination
D. Taking stories from others and fictionalizing them/or incorporating them into yours
E. All of the above (or a mixture of a few)

E would be the usual answer 😉

It takes a blend of experiences, knowledge, and imagination to bring a setting to life in the best ways. But what do we need to know to impact the creation of our settings?

Oh goodness, I don’t have enough space here to go into all the possible information, but here are a few questions to ask while shaping your storyworld.

What does the place look like? (duh, right?)

What’s the mood of the place? How does it feel? – for example, in Lord of the Rings, Mordor has a very different “sense” and weather to it than the Shire. Even the weather sets a tone for the setting in those two places.

What sort of people live here? Is it a big mix of cultures? Agrarian? A city? The smells, sounds, even the accents are going to be different, depending on what you choose.

What would be the typical work done in this setting? A fishing village by the sea is going to have a different style, flavor, and feeling than a upscale, city street. A rural area is going to give off a different vibe than a suburb – not only in what we see, but in what people wear, the way they talk to each other, and even the pace of life.

What cultures and traditions might influence the setting and the people?

What is the history of this place?
Has it been there a long time? Were there any significant historical events that took place there? Will these influence the setting of your story or the people within it?

How about the geography? Having an ocean nearby is going to create a different culture than being surrounded by mountains. In my book, My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge, the culture of the Appalachian people – isolated within their mountains with limited options for making a living – are naturally prone to developing and drinking alcohol because the nature of their environment sets them up for it. So then, how will this ‘culture’ impact my story?

The creation of a world comes from a big pot of possibilities, and each author attempts to evoke a reader’s imagination in different ways.

Take the Organic Approach

Second (and as important as the first) - take an organic approach to revealing your setting.

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper Basham
This may seem a no-brainer for most people, but it’s definitely a shift in writing styles from the 1800s to now 😊 Charles Dickens could spend an entire page describing a cobblestone sidewalk, but readers nowadays are going to skim over that type of intensive detail.

It’s important to weave the setting into the action of the story, not use it as bookends to a page.

You do NOT have to tell everything you know about this setting in your book. In fact, please DON’T!! What you want to do is highlight the best parts of your setting to build a sense of place, but not bog down your readers with details. The best way to do this is weave the setting into the action of the story.

Master storyteller Jerry Jenkins gives these two examples:

London in the 1860s was a cold, damp, foggy city crisscrossed with cobblestone streets and pedestrians carefully dodging the droppings of steeds that pulled all manner of public conveyance. One such pedestrian was Lucy Knight, a beautiful, young, unattached woman in a hurry to get to Piccadilly Circus. An eligible bachelor had asked her to meet him there.

I get the sense of setting, don't you? It works, right?

But…Jenkins gives us an even BETTER way 😊

London’s West End, 1862

Lucy Knight mince-stepped around clumps of horse dung as she hurried toward Regent Street. Must not be late, she told herself. What would he think?

She carefully navigated the cobblestones as she crossed to hail a Hansom Cab – which she preferred for its low center of gravity and smooth turning. Lucy did not want to appear as if she’d been toseed about in a carriage, especially tonight.

“Not wearin’ a ring, I see,” the driver said as she boarded.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Nice lookin’ lady like yourself out alone after dark in the cold fog…”

“You needn’t worry about me, sir. I’m only going to the circus.”

“Picadilly, it is, Ma’am.”

Do we still get the same idea of the setting? Yes, but we ALSO have it incorporated in such a way that the story is moving forward AND we get a little character introduction along with a tinge of suspense for icing on the cake.

Now there is NOTHING wrong with beautiful prose and descriptions, but if they can mean something to the story and move it along, then that is how to bring your setting to life without it feeling like a list of details. And, if you’re going to give a longer, meaningful description, try to alternate it with some action or dialogue.

Move the Senses

Thirdly, don’t forget the five senses.

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper Basham
When describing your setting, find ways to incorporate various types of senses so that the reader can experience the environment too. Of course, there’s an emotional feeling the setting can create, but there’s also sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. We usually don’t use them all at one time in a description, but it’s fun and interesting to try and find different ways to use them throughout the story.

Here’s an example from my historical romance, My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge (a descriptive paragraph set within the center of a chapter). Also, the mountains are an integral part of the story.

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper Basham
Laurel hesitated only a second longer before she headed out the door and down the steep mountain path toward the church schoolhouse. The trees were only beginning to shift into autumn colors, with hickory and beech displaying their golden glints first. She breathed in the earth’s fragrance, still fresh from morning rain, a mixture of wild rose and moss. Sunlight created a patchwork against the leafy trail as it slit through the mature forest and led the way down the mountain. Small glimpses of horizon showed between the trees and offered an endless view to uncharted lands of colleges and city streets and millions of other things she’d only seen through the pages of books.

The important thing about incorporating the senses is to keep it organic and relevant to the rest of the story.

Creating a World in a Book by Guest Blogger Pepper Basham

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes historical and contemporary romance novels with grace, humor, and culture clashes. She’s a Blue Ridge Mountain native and an anglophile who enjoys combining her two loves to create memorable stories of hope. You can connect with Pepper over at her group blog, The Writer’s Alley, her website, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter.

What are some books you’ve felt have shown setting well? 
What places have you visited lately through books that you’ve never been to in real life?
Pepper has a copy of My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge for one commenter!
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