How To Write a Novel — Setting Story Threads

Day 17 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Pat Whelen on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 17 — Setting Story Threads

I have been looking at story threads for the last few days — narrative elements that iterate through repetition and variation. They come from Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula by Stuart Horwitz (my affiliated link for the book is here). In that book, they are called Series, but I prefer the term threads.

So far, I have considered the central thread, character threads, and symbol threads. Eventually, I will combine these threads to weave the story, but at the moment, I’m working them out individually.

Today I’m looking at setting threads. This is how a place mentioned in a book becomes a setting, through the repetitions and variations of that place in the book.

Guidebook setting threads

As always, I’m trusting my two guidebooks to keep me on the right track. For this project, I’m using The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. I’ll look at some setting threads from these.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Two setting threads I’ve identified in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are Seasons and Lamppost.


  • Seasons (type: setting) — track the White Witch’s power vs Aslan’s arrival — Will it ever be Christmas?

The White Witch controls the seasons at the start of the book. In Narnia it is eternal winter, so that Christmas never comes, nor do they move on to Spring. Once Aslan is on the move, and returns to Narnia, then the White Witch’s power diminishes, and he restores the natural progression of the seasons.

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/7/ When Lucy arrives through the wardrobe, she finds a land covered in snow.

2/14/ Tumnus tells Lucy that it is always winter and never Christmas.

3/31/ Lucy tells Edmund it is the White Witch who keeps it always winter.

4/59/ From the old rhyme the children learn when Aslan bares his teeth, winter meets its death.

5/80/ Father Christmas arrives and gives the children gifts.

6/91/ Spring has arrived and the White Witch can no longer travel by sledge.


  • Lamppost (type: setting) — the lamppost guides us between the world of men and the world of Narnia — Where are we?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/7/ The lamppost guides Lucy into Narnia.

2/10/ We learn the lamppost is the boundary of Narnia.

3/15/ Tumnus guides Lucy back to the lamppost to return home.

4/29/ The White Witch points out the lamppost to Edmund and says her house is in the opposite direction.

5/43/ Edmund gives away that he has been to Narnia before by revealing he knows where the lamppost is.

6/140/ The children, now Kings and Queens, stumble across the lamppost and leave Narnia.

Gangsta Granny

Two setting threads from Gangsta Granny are Granny’s House and the Tower of London

Granny’s House

  • Granny’s House (type: setting) — Granny’s house reflects how Ben sees her — What makes a house a home?

Iteration Number/Page/Iteration

1/11/ Ben doesn’t want to stay at his ‘dreaded granny’s house’, and is driven there with the child locks on so he doesn’t escape.

2/16/ It was one of an entire row of sad little homes. Ben slowly turns to look at it. It smells of cabbage.

3/21/ Granny has stuffed her house with books and Ben loathes reading.

4/54/ Ben’s mum keeps the engine running to getaway from Granny’s house when she drops Ben off.

5/90/ Ben doesn’t want to leave Granny’s house because he hasn’t heard the end of her stories.

6/128/ Ben tries to protect Granny’s house from the nosey Mr Parker.

7/186/ Ben wants to go to Granny’s house but has to go to the under-twelve ballroom dancing championships.

8/259/ Ben and Granny arrive at her house to find Mr Parker and the police. They search the house but find nothing.

9/267/ They have dispatched Mr Parker. The sun bathes the row of bungalows in golden light and they look somehow magical.

10/293/ Ben cycles to his Granny’s bungalow. There is snow on the roof and the lights are off. Granny remains only in Ben’s heart.

Tower of London

  • Tower of London (type: setting) — the bond between the generations — Can Granny and Ben achieve an impossible heist?

1/136/ The Tower of London keeps the Crown Jewels under lock and key.

2/144/ Ben realises there is a sewer that he can use to get into the Tower and finds a chart of the sewers in Plumbing Weekly.

3/151/ Ben uses his lessons to learn about the Tower.

4/169/ Ben outlines his plan to infiltrate the Tower to Granny.

5/214/ The pair arrive at the Tower for the heist.

6/223/ The Tower is eerie and said to be haunted.

7/229/ The ravens in the Tower spook Ben.

8/245/ The Queen catches them in the Tower.

9/247/ Granny sacrifices herself to be locked up in the Tower if the Queen releases Ben.

10/295/ The Queen reflects on her visitors to the Tower and how the young should be kind to the elderly.

My setting threads

So far in my book, I have identified some locations where scenes might take place and that might recur: Charlie’s house, Mr Needem’s bakery, The Smell Tower and the launch event location. I’ll look at creating setting threads for these.

  • Charlie’s house (type: setting) — order and routine vs change — Will Charlie’s dad accept their mum is not coming home?
  1. Charlie’s dad doesn’t want Charlie making a mess of the house and baking cupcakes for his birthday. Charlie’s mum always did the cooking, and his dad can only make toast.
  2. A postcard arrives at the house from Charlie’s mum. She is having a great time. Charlie hides it from his dad.
  3. Charlie fills the house with unfamiliar smells as he bakes in the dark. Sandy, his sister, cries when the smells remind her of her mum.
  4. Miasmus visits Charlie‘s house. He persuades Charlie’s dad that Charlie, Sandy and Woofy should stay at The Smell Tower for the holidays.
  5. A postcard has arrived at the house whilst Charlie at The Smell Tower telling Charlie’s dad she has found someone else.
  6. Charlie and Sandy turn their house into a cakery.

Mr Needem’s bakery (type: setting) — the excitement of new possibilities — Will Mr Needem diversify?

  1. Charlie goes to the bakery to a white sliced loaf. Mr Needem gets him to try his latest dodgy experimental bread. Charlie sees the cupcake competition.
  2. Charlie enters the cupcake competition at the bakery and wins. Mr Needem wants to sell his cupcakes but Miasmus wants exclusivity until after his latest product launch.
  3. After the launch and the cupcake fiasco, Charlie goes to see if Mr Needem will sell his cupcakes, but he sticks to selling bread.

The Smell Tower (type: setting) — what are the secrets it is hiding — What are the secret plans?

  1. Miasmus mentions he is busy working on a new secret project at The Smell Tower.
  2. Miasmus persuades Charlie’s dad to let Charlie, Sandy and Woofy move into The Smell Tower for the holidays to help him with his secret project.
  3. Miasmus helps Charlie mass produce his cupcakes for the secret product launch.
  4. Arriving at the Tower, Charlie ‘sees’ a rotten corpse smell on Miasmus.
  5. Charlie follows Miasmus to the penthouse to find him mucking out his pigs.
  6. Charlie finds the Skunk farm level of the Tower.
  7. Charlie searches the office, and Miasmus almost catches him. He hides and hears him planning to make a bomb.

Launch Event (type: setting) — a disaster is looming, but everyone is having fun — Will anyone take notice?

  1. Charlie learns a bomb will go off at the Launch Event.
  2. His dad is there but is off duty and enjoying himself, doesn’t want to listen to Charlie.
  3. Cheerful crowds of people hamper Charlie and Sandy as they search for the bomb.
  4. They discover the bomb but Miasmus stops them from reaching it with a conga line.
  5. Charlie realises the cupcakes are the real threat and with Sandy’s help, they call down the birds. Everyone thinks it is part of the spectacle until they snatch the cupcakes away.
  6. Charlie calls Miasmus’ bluff. On the stage he eats a cupcake, and he becomes a parple machine.


I am seeing how the various threads I have created connect. Today’s setting story threads connect to the central threads, character threads and symbol threads from the previous days. This is exciting, as where the threads interact will form the key scenes in the book.

Tomorrow I will look at how relationships become dynamic story threads.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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