I’ve blogged a couple of times about the importance of settings. While I think we as writers talk a lot about settings it still is the most under used element in writing. To write a story with a ‘vague’ setting is like writing a romance without ever describing your hero. As I talk to few writers, I often hear that they don’t want to use a place they aren’t familiar with. Now while I agree that it can be a challenge, I also think the internet has open the entire world to writers.
My novella, Taking a Risk, is sit in the Amazon. Never been there. But afternoon spent viewing travel sites, nature sites, and cultural sites, I felt I could write a story there. I made a list of some of the native wildlife, the temperature and general weather conditions for the time of year my story, and some of local history. I bookmarked sites I felt I would I return to as I was writing.
Also don’t overlook social media as a great reference source. I’m friends on Facebook with fellow writers from all over the world.
I’m not saying every book needs to take place exotic place. Remember the setting is a character. The ‘real’ tooth fairy has no place in a romance. Taking a Risk needed to be take place in the Amazon. The jungle was as important as the hero or heroine.
As a pantser the only ‘planning’ I do before beginning a new WIP is start pulling pictures from my character notebook. The setting is included in this skeleton list I start off with. I have to know where my story takes place.
As with certain characters, settings have some stereotypes….
A small town adds quaintness but it can also amp up the suspense. A secret everyone knows about but refuses to admit. What will they do to keep their skeleton in the closet? The Inheritance takes in a small rural town. Beth (my heroine) doesn’t know where to turn when things start to get ‘creepy’ – everyone seems to be a part of the conspiracy. Beth also has to deal with one grocery store that doesn’t carry kale which she needs for her morning smoothie. Now while this doesn’t play into the suspense it does add to her frustration.
Or maybe the cold harshness of a big city works better with your story. The chaos of urban living adds a barrier to your hero seeking a peaceful evening to seduce your heroine.
Of course, I love to take a setting and twist it into something unexpected. For example isn’t this garden beautiful? A wonderful place to sit and read…or so one of my heroines think. But in reality a serial killer selects his victims from this park.
Don’t overlook the power of a setting. Also don’t be afraid of it. Let your muse run wild with a place, what unexpected things can happen in a place?