It’s mid January and it’s cold outside. Whether one uses the Fahrenheit or Celcius scale doesn’t matter. The bottom line is it’s freezing. Below zero. Gosh, darn C-O-L-D.

The extreme weather extends all the way to Piedmont Island.

Okay, I’ll admit Piedmont Island is a fictitious island off Minnesota’s northeastern coast. A figment of my imagination, it is nonetheless a remote place of rugged beauty with robust residents who have more than their fair share of troubles. The island is also surrounded by the largest fresh water inland body of water in the world - Lake Superior.  But, make-believe or not, Piedmont Island WILL be cold this time of year.

Acknowledging that simple climatic truth can work to a writer’s advantage.


Think of setting as a main character. Like the heroine or hero it will have traits, flaws, virtues, and vices. It can be used to up the stakes, equal the playing field, dictate types of events, etc. It can also eliminate a sagging middle or even solve writer’s block.

James V. Smith, Jr., explains it best in his book You Can Write A Novel.  “When you write about the setting, give it personality, involve it in the action. An inanimate setting might not have goals and motivations, but it definitely imposes rules of conduct on all characters equally, and they defy these rules at their peril.” 

I’d like to repeat that last little bit. “Settingimposes rules of conduct on all characters equally, and they defy these rules at their peril.”

Pick a setting for your story, and then use it. Exploit it. Capitalize on it.

January on Piedmont Island is naturally cold. It's winter. Bleak, harsh, relentless winter.

That means below zero temperatures, winter storm warnings, 100-mph gusting winds, white-out road conditions, streets and sidewalks covered with thick, treacherous ice. Any and all of these conditions pose potential problems for villains and protagonists alike. It may even force them to alter, stop, start or rethink their actions. And that can be a very good thing for you, and your story.

Remember too, that setting can influence a character’s mood. A person who enjoys cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling will be ecstatic at news of an impending record snowfall. An individual who prefers tropical drinks served with paper umbrellas and likes to lounge outdoors on the deck or patio will react quite differently to that same news. Put someone between a rock and a hard place and then throw everything Mother Nature has to offer at them, and you the writer can sit back and watch them, and your readers, squirm.