By: Marie Force
So you've got the brilliant story idea. Congratulations! You're on your way to writing a novel! You're starting to understand your characters and the journey you want to take them on. However, even knowing as much as you do about the book you want to write, the decisions are just beginning. On top of all the quirky things that make your characters who they are, you need to know, for instance, what time of year it is. Depending on where your story is set, time of year is critical to what your characters wear, their outdoor activities, etc. In Line of Scrimmage, when Ryan interrupts Susannah's dinner party, it's early February. He comes into the house wearing a beat up sheepskin coat that she despises. In that instance, the season provided me with a tiny slice of conflict I could use to ramp up the tension between them. All these small things add up to a big picture over the course of a novel.
Outside of characterization, I think the most critical decision we make as authors is setting. What city or town—real or fictional—will you grace with your characters' presence? With Line of Scrimmage, I had just begun to sketch out the story in late 2006 when I was sent to Denver for work. I'd never been there before and had a day to kill before my work obligation, so I wandered into tourist areas and talked to people. I asked a lot of questions such as where would a wildly successful football player live in this city? Person after person said Cherry Hills. I stayed in a fantastic hotel called The Brown Palace, which provided the location for my favorite scene in that book. The city lent its special charm to Line of Scrimmage and served, for all intent and purpose, as a third main character.
Baltimore takes center stage in Love at First Flight. For three years when my husband was still in the Navy we lived just south of the city. We strolled our toddler daughter through the Inner Harbor and Fell's Point. Our son was born in Maryland just before we left, and I landed a job in the area that I have to this day (meaning I still get to go there frequently :-) My friend and coworker lived in a fabulous rowhouse right in the city that had gorgeous details: slate countertops, cabinets suspended from the ceiling, a roof deck that overlooked the entire city, and phones in every bathroom. When I needed a place for my hero in L@FF to call home, I didn't need to look much further than April's rowhouse. (She's going to provide some photos for launch week festivities!) Baltimore is a fantastic city with many eclectic neighborhoods that provided just the right atmosphere for Love at First Flight—a big city with a small-town feel. So how did I decide to set the book there? You've heard me say before that I overheard a conversation in the Baltimore Washington International Airport that gave me the inspiration for the book. Since I was already there, I figured why not stay?
Love at First Flight gave me the opportunity to revisit some of my other favorite places and/or former homes. After we left the Baltimore area, we lived for four years in Jacksonville, FL. In L@FF, we'll visit Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and Amelia Island. We'll also take a trip to Dewey Beach, Delaware (never lived there, but it sure is pretty!) and my hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, where my hero, Michael Maguire, grew up. Each of these locations adds something special to the book's atmosphere.
To the authors out there, how do you decide where to set your stories? To the readers, how important is setting to your enjoyment of a story?