Friday, July 18, 2008

How Settings Enrich Our Books



I feel that setting is very important in a book. It gives it that extra bit of life when the right setting surrounds the characters.Many of my books have been set in real places, others I created a town just because it’s more fun that way and I can do whatever I want with it. Or I’ll use a general area for my own purposes.


I love small town settings with eccentric characters, a place with history and an old feel to it. I wrote one Harlequin American Romance, Mommy Heiress, set it in a small Kansas town and created a town that had a little of everything. Here we have a wealthy Southern California debutante who’s been stripped of her credit cards and stuck in a small town. Total fish out of water and turned into a lot of fun to write. I also wrote a book set in Salem, MA where magic is hinted at and the heroine had an accused witch in her family history. It's also fun to make the setting out of a character's element and I've done that many times.


I like to think the settings and the characters go together. Surroundings have a personality all their own and it’s fun to set that up to make that perfect fit between setting and characters.Excellent example is Jazz in 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover. Jazz may be over 700 years old, but there’s parts of her that’s a child at heart. Hence, her love of the boardwalk and the rides there. It seemed fitting she live near the boardwalk where she can indulge her Ferris wheel and roller coaster ride addiction. She’d be a total Southern California witch, while her fellow witches Stasi and Blair, prefer their small mountain town which has more than their share of eccentric, and parnormal, creatures there. But you'll have to wait until next March to find out about them.

I also love ghost towns. When I was little we spent a lot of vacations exploring ghost towns in California, Nevada and Arizona. And I have just the right story for a ghost town.

What about you? Do you believe settings are important in the books you read/write? Do you like strong word pictures to help you visualize a book?

Linda

11 comments:

  1. Because I write historical novels, settings are very important. Readers expect to be transported back in time and to another place.

    In No Regrets Caro travels to Paris. This is a Paris not long after Waterloo and France is still occupied by allied soldiers. It is also a Paris where Montmartre is not yet built and despite the wide boulevards built by Napoleon, many of the city streets are narrow twisted alleys running with filth in the kennels, as they have for centuries.

    Unlike London at the time, there are no gas lights, but rather the occasional lantern strung haphazardly from one building to another across the streets.

    Only the Palais Royal is bright with lights, because it is the centre of night life and full of gamblers, naughty ladies and soldiers from every country in the world taking advantage of what Paris has to offer.

    And the Parisiennes are not happy about their beloved city full of foreigners. They wear flowers to taunt and to show which political party they belong to because many resent the return of Bourbon king. They start fights in the theatres and the streets. They challenge foreigners to duels. It is an exciting and dangerous place to be.

    So I can't agree more, setting is a vital part of a story's atmosphere, so much so that it becomes a fully fledge character.

    Of course, one can only show the setting through the eyes of a character, only see what he or she sees or experiences and that is the fun of writing, bringing it to life in a way that it fits right into the story without anyone noticing all the research.

    Great post Linda.

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  2. That's the nice thing about sci-fi--you can make anything happen--anywhere!

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  3. Great post, Linda!

    And I agree with Michele, in my books the setting IS another character. One way I accomplish this is to have the setting be familiar to one character and completely unknown to the other.

    In The Wild Sight my hero grew up in Northern Ireland and has had to return after a 15 year absence. He can notice how things have changed or remained the same. My heroine has never set foot on Irish soil before, so it is all new and different for her.

    I try to use as many authentic details as possible, but sometimes I take "artistic license" and invent things to enhance my story.

    My CPs and those who have read the book say they feel that they really are in Ireland. That's a wonderful compliment!

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  4. I have read books in which the setting is so important and distinctive that I'd consider it another character. I've read others where the setting actually made it a better book for me just because I found it so interesting. And I've read a few where the setting mattered so little that the story could have transplanted anywhere--not that this made it a bad book. I think it's fascinating, the way that books can come in so many different shapes and styles.

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  5. That's so true, especially with historicals, Michele. You're showing a world in the past and the setting gives the book so much more flavor. And it's fun to throw in tidbits that people don't expect.

    Linda

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  6. Cheryl,

    You get to completely make up your setting!

    Linda

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  7. You're right, Loucinda! You want them to believe you've been there even if you haven't.

    Linda

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  8. Christina,

    It seems in some books the setting is important and true, another character, while others it's only a vague background and focus is on the characters themselves.

    Linda

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  9. I write contemporary, so setting is important, but definitely background. For my otherworld, I get a little more detailed because it's fun to completely make it up, but I do tend to think of it all more like the set for a really great play. You think it's beautiful, but most of the time, you're so focused on the action that you forget it's there, even though it's adding to the atmosphere.

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  10. Kendra,

    As you said, atmosphere. It's important because it adds to the overall feeling of the book.

    Linda

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  11. Great post, Linda! For my settings, I look for where real wolves are also located. So I probably won't have my characters on a desert island anytime soon. :)
    Although, crashing on one could make for an interesting story.

    I think it's fun when the setting is like a character. In a ghostly YA I wrote, the jungle-like swamp that was located across the street from the heroine's home was definitely a character in the book--moody, dangerous, full of secrets. I lived in the house across the street from there and explored it as a teen, so I knew it first hand. Think I'd be foolhardy enough to explore it as an adult? Nope!

    For Betrayal of the Wolf, the hero is transplanted from his native California forest home to the rugged Oregon coastline, not by choice. Showing him relating to the new lay of the land is fun.

    I guess I've moved so much, like Kendra, with the military and even with industry, that I tend to have that theme in my stories and didn't even realize it!!!--In Heart of the Wolf, it's the fact Bella has run off to Oregon from her home of Colorado, and she has a greenhouse that displays her beloved Colorado flowers, a part of home. Then when she returns to Colorado, she has a greenhouse full of Oregon flowers. :)Devlyn can't stand the constant rainy weather in Oregon and can't wait to get back to Colorado. :)

    In Allure of the Wolf, the idea of being stuck in the Canadian Arctic does not appeal to either the hero and heroine, one from Seattle, the other from Portland! :)

    And in Don't Cry Wolf, the heroine has to leave her generations old home to strike out anew in unfamiliar territory in another part of Colorado. :)

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