A Place for Your Characters   6 comments

Talk about the setting of your book. Is it entirely imaginary or is it based on a real-life place?

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Settings are almost a character in fiction. Some genres focus more on world-building than others and I write in three genres.

In Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) the setting is the world of Daermad and the kingdom of Celdrya and neighboring nations. It’s largely a product of my imagination, based somewhat on reality, particularly the old cities of Europe. It’s a rich varied world with mountain villages and ocean-side cities, vast fields of grain dotted with farmsteads and trackless forests. People make their living fishing, farming, selling herbs, herding horses, serving wine and ale at state affairs, and a million and one other trades. Rivers divide the land into regions, acting as transportation routes as well as borders. My goal is to provide the reader with the feeling of having walked the land and talked to the people. I want readers to feel the mud rolling downhill during a storm, for example — to feel as if they stand off to the side and see the character in that environment.

Transformation Project (Life as We Knew It and the rest of the series) exists in a world that is the United States the day after tomorrow following a series of massive terrorist attacks that thoroughly disrupts life as we know it. There’s a lot less world-building involved simply because we know this world. I picked a town in Kansas and learned a great deal about it, gave it another name and used it as a template for my main setting. I use that real town to answer questions about how the off-ramps on the interstate work, what utilities are available, whether there’s a hospital or grocery store, a Walmart or Costco. Other towns in the series are places we know — Wichita, Hays, Hutchinson. I changed the name of my town because I didn’t want to get into a situation where I place a story in a real-life setting and then realize I can’t do something because the real-life community isn’t set up that way. Back in the 1970s, someone wrote a novel about Fairbanks, Alaska, and then screwed up on some of the details. It wasn’t that great of a story to begin with, but the erroneous details made it painful to read, which I had to for an Alaska Literature class in college. Required reading and it’s wrong. Just shut my head in a car door, please. So I used a real-life town as a template, but moved things around and didn’t use the same road names and called it Emmaus, Kansas — which doesn’t exist. I still want the reader to feel that they could pull off I70 and find this town because it is the world my characters inhabit and the reader is more engaged with the characters if the characters are set like gems within a rich tapestry.

I followed the same process with building the setting in Red Kryptonite Curve. I picked a Long Island town and used it as a template so that I would get the details right, but then I renamed the town and made enough changes that you couldn’t reasonably say it is that town. This allows me to have access to real-life facts — like bus schedules, a description of the harbor, a description of the downtown area, details about the school system — while also moving things around and making stuff up to fit the needs of the story. Peter is a modern American more attune to malls and concert venues, but I want his interactions with his world to seem authentic, to make the readers feel like they’re right there with him.

My view of setting is that most of life is influenced by what goes on around us. I live a certain way in Fairbanks, Alaska, because it’s a frontier town on the edge of a vast wilderness with a certain degree of isolation, long, dark, cold winters, and brief, intense summers when the sun doesn’t go down. People living in other towns at other latitudes live different lives because their setting is different. With a few details, you can build a world that puts characters into an environment rather than just floating in space. This makes for a much richer and more engaging story that shows characters acting like real people in real world settings. And if I get stuck describing something, I can probably find a photo out on the Internet that will provide me with the visual I need to massage my imagination.

The setting of a scene can give added depth to the character’s actions. For example, in Red Kryptonite Curve, Peter often describes the Wyngates’ backyard has having rose bushes that he hates. They are pretty to look at, but they have no fragrance and there are thrones. They’re a metaphor for his mother who planted them and adored them, and then ran off to Florida with her lover. Peter would take a machete to them if he could. Without really going into the relationship with his mother, you can surmise who she is and what she is like through the inclusion of her roses in the setting. And, thus, the setting becomes not just the world the characters inhabit, but a character in and of itself.

Let’s go see what my fellow blog-hoppers think on the topic.

Posted April 20, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “A Place for Your Characters

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  1. This is interesting, Lela. I prefer to incorporate imaginary characters into my historical novels, provided the actual historical figure is not a must, as it makes it very difficult to ensure that every detail is correct and that you don’t upset some distant modern relative who sues you for maligning their ancestor. My settings in my historical novels must be real places.

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  2. I prefer imaginary places, but if I do use real places I always make sure I say something nice about them so as not to upset the natives!

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  3. I have written about places that are based on reality, but not quite identical. I love giving just enough information to show their similarity, then shocking the reader with the difference.

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  4. And if I get stuck describing something, I can probably find a photo out on the Internet that will provide me with the visual I need to massage my imagination.

    Excellent call. All that world-building stuff is often far more entertaining to write than read. A certain niche will suspend disbelief if the story’s good enough, but set building is arduous and time-consuming with a varied and unpredictable scale of payoff.

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  5. That was one of my biggest beefs with the Longmire TV series. In order to fit the needs of a TV show, they changed minor details in the settings of the books and made them less authentic.

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  6. Great post! I keep details of real places to a minimum, which is easy to do in romance. The genre tends to be very character-focused, which demands more group and personal cultural research.

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