Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Why and When of Setting

When it comes to setting I love to take snapshots galore as references before I begin writing a new story. I like my settings to stand as an additional character. My current WIP takes place in a rural location forty miles from my home, in the northern hemisphere. Sounds like a simple choice and one easy to research.

But no setting is static. I came up with the premise and I needed to decide what season the story would open with. A secondary character is a four-year-old girl and the plot centers on family. I considered each season and the effect on the area and my characters. Only one suited the story opening. It’s November with dry grapevines, brown hills and a gray sky overhead. Thanksgiving is two days away.

Here are the dry grapevines and the brown hills.
Unfortunately I had blue sky instead of overcast on this shooting day.

Take a little girl raised in the southern hemisphere and plop her into a pastoral environment totally different from the high-rise city life she’s known. The major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas now offer plenty of opportunities for action and reaction. To her Christmastime means swimsuits and beach outings. This timeframe works perfect in conjunction with the heroine’s plight. It highlights her dysfunctional family and her own dreams.

One month later heavy December rains greened the slopes. Workers have pruned the vines.

I place my stories in small towns or rural locations. They interest me and I vividly “see” my characters there, living their lives. Perhaps my own small town is a primary factor. Small details are telling.
I spotted a simple outdoor Christmas snowman with a cowboy hat and knew I could use it as a device in my story.

There are as many settings as authors in the world. What are your thoughts on setting? Do you have a favorite one?


Emma Leigh said...

Great post, Sheila. My favorite settings are the Maine coast. The ocean is a personal favorite place for me to go when I'm stressed and I incorporate that in all my stories.

Sheila Tenold said...

Hi Emma, I've been once to Maine. I love the effect of pine trees crowding the coastline. It's so dramatic and beautiful.
I live one mile from the beach in California but it's flatland here, quite different from Maine.

Vonnie Davis said...

Loved the snowman picture and enjoyed your post. I like to write about places I love--some I've been to, some I haven't "Storm's Interlude" that comes out in July takes place on a ranch--someplace I've always wanted to visit. My current WIP takes place in Paris--a city I love visiting. I would live there if I could, but the checkbook is lacking. Settings are very important. We all love being transported to another place and time. Write on!!

Sheila Tenold said...

Paris, Vonnie? Oh, I've wanted to walk along the Seine since I was a teenage girl. Never been there, unfortunately.I'd love reading a story situated in Paris.

I live near several ranches and spend time with my horsey girlfriends who are valuable resources. If I could, I'd have my very own horse. But, I'm in the same situation as you with my checkbook.

Jill James said...

Sheila, your small town looks like mine. I like setting my stories in generic towns. I'll pick a section of the state and add my fictional little town.

Sheila Tenold said...

Jill, I think you're smart to create a fictional town.

My story takes place at a fictional western resort/guest ranch. However, I'm using the actual small town names in some of the action since this story happens in a recognized California valley. If that later turns out to be a problem the 'find and replace' function in WORD can do the fixing.

Janet/Cricket said...

My favorite town is an imaginary place along the California coastline named "Las Ninos de la Noche" which I made up for my first vampire tale, All Night Inn. I once was telling an editor about it in front of a group when several people who understood Spanish burst out laughing. The name does, of course, mean "children of the night".

Sheila Tenold said...

Janet, that is too funny. I read the Spanish name twice to translate inside my head! In conjunction with vampires it sounds kind of creepy, like the vampires are "changing" the town's children. Is that the plot?

Denise said...

Hi Sheila,

I can't say that I have one favorite setting. My parents moved a good bit when I was growing up. I married a traveling man, we're on the road a good bit for his work. So, no one place ever truly appeals to me. But setting is important to a novel and I pick the setting that most appeals to the story I'm writing.

My husband is the photo freak when we're traveling and I tell him what I want pictures of so I can use them when I'm writing. I have several pictures of headstones--great for gathering names from different years.


Joanne said...

I also use settings as another character. I write historicals set in Tudor England, and they always seem to end up being set in the fall and winter months. I must like cold and snow for my settings.

Sheila Tenold said...

I just returned from the gym.

Denise, my husband and I are intrigued with cemeteries and have collected a few snapshots of headstones. I never thought about using the names in a story! Thanks for sharing that idea.

Sheila Tenold said...

Tudor England? Wow! What a place and time of contrasts. We recently watched The Tudors miniseries on Netflix. Fabulous castles, lavish country homes and extreme poverty certainly offers plenty of setting choices.

My chilliest memory of England was a fall day visiting Stonehenge. The icy wind cut right though you.