Hi Everyone! Linda Broday here. I was supposed to blog today but western author Dee Burks is taking my place. Miss Dee has taught writing classes at Amarillo College for several years. And in addition to being a romance author, she’s the owner and publisher of TAG Publishing Company. We’re so happy to have her with us. See her giveaway at the end of the blog.
Just kidding, but before you get all excited about this being some sort of historical take on “50 shades” let me assure you it’s not, although now that I think about it, the idea has some merit! No, this is a blog about an often underutilized aspect of a story’s setting and that is the topography of the area or “lay of the land”. As a writer it is natural to think of the setting of a story in terms of vegetation, season and general climate attributes. But topography is another aspect to setting that can greatly enhance the buy in for readers. This is especially true in a historical novel as getting from one point to another was quite the challenge, much more so than in a contemporary setting.
When I was researching the setting for my new River City Series, I revisited the area of Northern New Mexico known as the Enchanted Circle. This area rings Wheeler Peak (elevation 13,159 ft) and includes the towns of Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, Taos, Questa and Red River. This area was a boom area in the late 1800s as mining first took off and brought many new people to the region. I was very familiar with the reality of the topography of the area as my family went on vacation to Red River almost every summer in the late 70s.
One afternoon last fall, as my DH and I were tromping up a steep incline to yet another old cemetery on the former site of Elizabethtown, it occurred to me how much we were both affected by the attitude. We are from Amarillo (elevation 3700 ft) and I have to say the treadmill incline can’t make you sweat and huff air like a short walk up a hill in thin air! The first book in the River City Series (Yours Again) has a villain chasing my heroine from Boston all the way to these same mountains over a few days and I quickly realized that the altitude change would greatly affect him. There is no way even a grown man who is used to sea level elevation can tussle with a squirming woman, run though town and then ride off through the mountains without almost passing out!
I worked this into the story using the effects of altitude sickness to add humor and make it easier for the hero to rescue the heroine. It seemed so obvious that traveling in and around a mountainous area would cause physical problems, but think about how many books you’ve read where is seems like everything happens on perfectly flat ground? No one has to slow horses down for steep inclines or slide though mountain mud on unsteady footing. Adding just that little touch of realism can be the difference between a reader feeling like they are ‘there’ and them just skipping over passages.
The good news is that thanks to the US Geological Service, topography maps are available online. You can access them through a quick Google search of the area you are interested in followed by “topographical map”. You can even access historical topographical maps of certain areas. This is useful because it allows you to see exactly the type of terrain and environmental obstacles characters will encounter. Here’s an example:
Years ago, one of the first classes in writing I ever took was taught by the great Jodi Thomas and she was a stickler for having description within a story include all the senses: smell, taste, touch, sight and sound. I still hold fast to that advice and remember that setting the scene is much more than simply creating a still photo in the readers’ minds; it’s about allowing them to experience the lay of the land as well. In this way they walk beside the characters every step of the way as if they are part of the story and not just an observer.
Whether your story is set in the mountains, by the sea or in the dusty canyons of the west, the incremental changes in topography and a writer’s ability to convey that scene in a real way, will add a tremendous amount of realism to the story and sweep readers off their feet with every turn of the page.
The Kindle version of Yours Again is on sale this week for only 99 cents! Get your copy here:HERE