Monday, July 18, 2011

Setting: All Important

Where are my places of power? Where do I fill up creatively and spiritually? Where do I feel most confident, most peaceful, most like me?

When I choose a setting, I think of these questions because the setting I choose affects my books in an integral way. In my first few books, I chose the town where I grew up to be my backdrop for many reasons. Garnering local publicity was a big one. But I believe I mainly chose it for familiarity. I knew what shops and businesses were located downtown. I had a host of suburbs to choose from. The town was large enough so I could weave in anything I needed. Most of all, I knew it so well I could concentrate on all the other elements necessary to sell those books. Years later when I set a more expansive book there that dealt with the 1970's, I realized my heart was in my hometown and that shone through whether or not I'd realized the fact in my earlier books.

Sometimes I choose a setting because of my hero or heroine's background or career path. If I want to write about a venture capitalist, I could choose Chicago or New York City. A trauma surgeon would lead me to a more heavily populated area and have hundreds of patient contacts whereas a small town doctor would be involved with fewer patients over his or her lifetime. If I select a large city, I still create a community of characters because friendships and family bonds are critical in my novels. A hometown gives my hero or heroine roots. If my character is a newcomer, he or she can feel estranged from the residents, or see this place with a sense of exploration. My hero and heroine can shade a reader's opinion of any setting.

A fictional setting is often the easiest to use. I can give the town a flavor all of its own. My street names can be picturesque or utilitarian. I can build a hospital with a specialized Neonatal Intensive Care unit or create a lake for boating. Anything and everything I will need for my plot can be a product of my imagination.

For my Reunion Brides series that began in February, I chose a setting that is as important as any character. Miners Bluff is a fictional former copper mining town near Flagstaff, Arizona. Forests, canyons and mountains are infusing the books with their own special magic while I write. My heroes and heroines are surrounded by a natural beauty that infiltrates not merely the descriptions but the imagery I use as well. Because this is one of my favorite destinations that fills up my creative spirit—particularly Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon--my feelings about the area seep into the emotion and conflict. This setting becomes a character in itself.

Every setting should have a purpose. Before beginning a project, I ask myself—What does this setting accomplish? If I'm mindful of its purpose, it can become a major influence in whatever I write.
(For another of my favorite settings, my garden, check out my e-zine--IN TOUCH with Karen Rose Smith.)


Anonymous said...

I just love settings. I think that's what drew me to writing fantasy in the first place--taking what you said about a fictional place one step farther and setting it in a fictional world/time where I can invent everything. The book I'm currently trying to get published is a fantasy set in world inspired by Turkey (more specifically, the 16th century Ottoman Empire), but in my WIP I'm going back to the town where I grew up. Everything you said about the advantages of setting your story in a town you know down to its bones is true. It's been a major shift for me, and so much fun that I wonder why I didn't try it before.

Debra Key Newhouse said...

Since I'm an unpub, I'm more for the "write what you know" approach by creating a fictional town about where I live. Locals would certainly know the area I'm describing, but it's become "my" town and I'm the mayor so to speak. it's been fun changing the names of local restaurants, hang outs and parks that create such an important part of the story. Great post Karen!

KRS said...

Michelle--That's a great way to explain what happens in fantasy setting--taking what is and making it more! Thanks for sharing that.

KRS said...

Debra--My first few books were set in my local area. I would create little towns around mine and use those. It's great being mayor!