What part does physical setting play in the stories you read and write? In some stories the setting is just a backdrop, like the painted set in a play. There’s nothing wrong with this. I’ve seen compelling dramas played out with no scenery at all. But in my own writing, the setting is as important as the characters.
Setting can add a sense of reality. It can be used to enhance the emotion in a scene. Think of a castle. Imagine it in a raging storm with lightning flashing over the parapets. Imagine it again bathed in moonlight with the scent of gardenias floating on the air. Put your hero and heroine in each setting and imagine what would happen. My novella for the upcoming Harlequin Christmas anthology is a story of tragedy, blame and forgiveness. I used the bleak, wintry Texas plains to express the emotions of the husband returning home after an unjust imprisonment and the wife whose world was shattered by his absence. Setting can even take a role the story—the sweltering sky that refuses to rain, the old house that hides its secrets, the ocean that separates two lovers.
In my own stories I like to use natural settings. Since I grew up in the rural west, hiking, exploring and camping with my family, I’m at home in the outdoors. My biology background helps me add birds, animals and plants. As most authors will tell you, the secret of bringing a setting to life is in the details—the splash of a cutthroat trout in a mountain lake, the croak of a raven, the scent of moss and wet earth. These kinds of details come naturally to me. They’re easy. But for my next release, due out in April, I took on a whole new set of challenges.
Those of you who’ve read THE BORROWED BRIDE, will be happy to know that Quint and Annie get their story in the sequel, HIS SUBSTITUTE BRIDE. The new book follows Quint to 1906 San Francisco, where he’s become a crusading reporter. Annie brings his daughter Clara for a visit, and romance blossoms. I had a great time writing the story, but the research was daunting. Luckily my daughter and her husband live near the Bay area. I was able to combine a research trip with a fun family visit. We trooped all over town, having a great time and getting a feel for the city. Coupled with that, I did hours and hours of reading and studying old photos, trying to capture the city as it was before the 1906 earthquake and fire (yes, that’s in the book).
Did I succeed? You can let me know after you’ve read the story in April. But I can show you the cover now. Here it is. The characters and background are perfect, but I would have added one element to the picture—the infamous San Francisco fog.
Do you have a favorite setting for the stories you write and/or read? What kind of details make a setting come alive for you? If you could visit the setting for one book, where would you go?
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