Friday, March 16, 2012

Tis a Writer's Life for Me!--Setting

One thing people always say about my writing is "I felt like I was right there!"   I felt the sea spray on my face and the wind in my hair! I could hear the thunder and see the lightning!

So how do I do that? How does an author create such a vivid setting that the reader actually feels they've been transported to another place? The setting of a story is extremely important. A story about a romantic triangle will be completely different set on a deserted island than it would be if it took place in the center of New York City. What about a ghost story? How different would it be if you set it on a ship out at sea instead of at the World's Fair.

So, the first thing you must do is decide what sort of mood you wish to convey in your story. A bright happy mood. A dangerous mood. A lonely mood. A scary mood. A busy mood. An adventurous mood.  And then choose a setting that depicts that feeling, that sensation.

Most of my novels are set on tall ships out at sea, making it quite obvious that I am going for that adventurous, swashbuckling mood! However I have had some scenes and even a few books that have taken place mostly on land. In The Falcon and the Sparrow, I choose the dark, crowded, dangerous streets of London in 1803 as the setting for my french spy story. In Surrender the Night, I chose an isolated farm on the outskirts of Baltimore for my story about overcoming fear of people.

 In my current manuscript, Illusive Hope, I chose the jungles of Brazil for my supernatural battle between good and evil. There's nothing more illusive and mysterious to me then a thick tropical jungle!

Okay, you've chosen your setting. Now what? Unless your setting is your house or your backyard, you need to become intimately acquainted with it. That's the only way you're going to be able to transport the reader from their couch into the world you create.  If your setting is some place you can travel to easily, then your best bet is to go there and spend as much time as you can exploring every nook and cranny.

After I was contracted for my series, Surrender to Destiny, I spent a week in Baltimore. Even though my stories take place nearly 200 years earlier, there's still so much I can learn about a place from just hanging around. I went to museums, took a tour of a tall ship, visited Fort McHenry, took part in a War of 1812 reenactment, sampled the local cuisine (Yum), and walked around.  Every city has a certain feel to it, a certain spirit drifting through its streets.  I breathed in the scent of the bay, felt the wind on my face, listened to the sounds and stored up every memory for when I would return home and write my stories.

If you can't visit the setting of your story, never fear!  With modern technology you can have the next best thing. Let's say your setting is the Caribbean. (My personal favorite!) View YouTube videos of the Caribbean. Clip out magazine pictures. Read books on the Caribbean. Read Travel Guides. Search for diaries or journals of people who have gone to the Caribbean.  Interview friends and family who have been there. And voila, before you know it, you'll feel like you've gone there yourself!

Next week, I'll be continuing my discussion on setting by talking about setting as conflict
So how about you? What are some of your favorite settings for books?


  1. Fri March 16th ....
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Truly interesting how you work on your 'settings' ... and again, you do it SO very well !!! You put so much effort into -- digging info about the place/places involved, along with your characters too.
    Yes, I've said that about your stories .... you make us feel like we are right there, a part of it, and experiencing it all. Your setting are always exciting. That's one of the things that makes you a great author !
    Well, I'm not very original, I'd have to say that my two favourite settings are: first and foremost ... on a swashbuckling ship (waves, storms, etc), with a hero and heroine, and story-line taking place in the earlier centuries; and, secondly, on a beautiful tropical Island -- breathtaking shorelines and scenery, waves crashing into the shoreline, interesting clouds, beautiful and various birds, volcanoes, swaying palm trees, tropicaal flowers, etc. I'm a romantic at heart, so obviously, a love-story.
    Thanks for sharing, MaryLu.
    Have a great weekend everyone.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. This is great!! Thank you so much for the tips. Love it. :)

  3. Brenda, you always bring a smile to my face! Thank you.. and I'm with you on settings. My 2 favs are the sea and a tropical island!!

    Glad you stopped by, Sheri!

  4. MaryLu,
    This is very insightful and helpful. I didn't even think about modern things like travel guides. I was looking more into old things.
    Thanks for the tips.
    It is so nice to have your thoughts.
    Have a blessed weekend.

    Shelby Z.

  5. This is very helpful! Travel guides are a really good idea. Thanks for these useful tips! :D

  6. Ah, travel guides. Good point. Great source of information. I collect those every time I go on a trip, for future reference. And I also use my five senses when touring a place. Makes the experience so much more enjoyable and is great for creating memories. I've always been partial to the Old West, but now, I also love the sea, thanks to a trip to Charleston and your books! :)

  7. your writing tips and descriptions definitely inspirit me!
    my fave settings are England, Ireland and while i've been twice to england for extended stays, my heart is set on Ireland...
    'o for the wee hint of an accent and a bit 'o the gorgeous green landscape. course growing up in a town called Killarney just might have something to do with it :)

    Thanks MaryLu & HaPpy St Patrick's to ya'!

  8. Glad I could help inspire you all!
    I knew I could win you over to the sea, Angi!!

    Ah yes, England and Ireland.. beautiful country.. all green and moist. You did the accent well! And happy St. Patty's day to ye as well!

  9. of my favorite things to choose when writing! There are so many possibilities, whether you write contemporary or historical! It's pretty much the only thing that I like to research...;) And yes Marylu, like so many others are saying, you definitely do a great job using the setting to pull your readers into the story and add to the plot! My favorite settings are in the country, or wide open space(such as in the middle of the sea, sailing around on a pirate ship!) I also like it when it is used to create adventure or suspense! Oh, and it absolutely has to be romantic! What's not romantic about a dark, smelly ship? Can't you just feel the love it penetrates? Haha!

  10. LOl. Emily. Methinks a dark, smelly ship can have lots of romance!! It just needs the right hero and heroine to bring it to life, eh? ;-)

  11. I never really thought about the setting changing the mood of the book... That may be why Surrender the Night felt so different to me! Obviously I love all your swashbuckling books, but I can relate much better to a story set on land, and not in a big city :)
    My favorites are: out at sea/tropical island, old west (or at least the country or a large farm), civil war era, the suffragette movement, and stories about pilots set in the earlier 1900s.

  12. Sarah.. check out this book by a friend of mine. It's about a lady pilot in the 1900's. I haven't read it but I can vouch for this author.

  13. Ohh wow!! That sounds awesome, MaryLu, thanks so much for telling me about it!! I have never heard of the author so I probably would never have found this book. So cool!