Friday, June 05, 2009

Location, location, location…. Setting is key to any story

We writers love to talk about our craft. This month’s topic is setting (aka atmosphere, background). The overall setting is the town or city where the story happens--including the little details that bring the place to life. On a smaller scale, setting is where each scene takes place. Setting plays a role in any story. In some, it becomes like a character. For example, in a story where characters must battle the elements in order to survive, whatever those elements are become so key that they are every bit as important as any character.

In American Romances the sense of community is all-important. The setting can augment that community feel. My American novels take place in small towns to underline the community element, but a writer can do the same in any big city. It’s all in how we present the atmosphere and background and the characters involved.

For my Halo Island series, I chose a small island with a big summer tourist business. I like the sense of separateness and intimacy created by the island. Some of my other story settings have been in fictitious towns on the Oregon Coast, in towns on the outskirts of Seattle, and in a fictitious Midwest town. Each is a unique atmosphere that in some way highlights or adds to the story.

Setting can have a huge impact on who the characters are and how they view life. Take a character, say the novel’s hero, born and raised in Big Sky country, where the population is limited and the terrain is vast and open. Now imagine the heroine born and raised in Manhattan, with its concrete and tall buildings, and the non-stop hordes of people.

How might these two view the world? Chances are, not at all the same way. Your Big Sky fella might be used to a slower tempo, thinking huge and speaking his mind. If he needs to get away, he might hike or take a long drive. Whereas Ms. Manhattan might be on espresso time, fast, fast, fast. Her world might be limited to the people in her apartment building or her work. Maybe she hides her thoughts in order to get ahead. When she needs a break, she shops or dashes into a coffee bar. The hero might quickly feel overwhelmed in the Big Apple, and the heroine would quite possibly freak out at the quiet and space in Montana.

I could go on and on about the differences created just by where a person is raised… but due to space constraints, I won’t.

But I would love to think about and discuss setting further. So please join in. What kinds of settings do you enjoy? What settings would you like to see in future novels?

A Father for Jesse
RT Top Pick! July, 2009


Estella said...

I love the small town settings, where the citizens all know each other.

Ann Roth said...

Me, too, Estella! On the other hand, the same connection thing can happen with people in the same apartment building, or in a sewing or quilting group. In Harlequin American books, the sense of community is what matters.

Ann Roth said...

P.S. I signed off too quickly! Forgot to add that like you, Estella, I love the small town feel and will place my next miniseries in a small town.