By Dee Davis
Not surprisingly, as a writer I also feel that setting is important. Often times for me the setting becomes a character. Almost as important as the hero and heroine. In A MATCH MADE ON MADISON, my romantic comedy set in Manhattan, the city is central to the story line. The places that Vanessa and her friends go are all actual places that I love, parts of the city I wanted to share with readers.
But setting can also be important in establishing the tone of a story. A hot steamy love story will work much better if it’s set in a similar local. Miami, New Orleans, or as is the case with my new release DANGEROUS DESIRES, the jungles of Colombia. The jungle provides not just a backdrop for the characters, but an integral component of the story line. It is because of the setting that things heat up in the way that they do. Conversely, sometimes it’s cold that makes a story work, when Annie Gallagher’s child (DARK DECEPTIONS) is kidnapped, it is the desolation of the mountain she lives on combined with the falling snow that lends an eerie tenor to the story.
Sometimes the type of tale drives the setting. A gothic set in a high rise in Manhattan doesn’t work as well as one set in a fog shrouded estate on the Cornish coast. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD wouldn’t have had the same resonance if it had been set outside the deep south. Try to imagine any of Larry McMurtry’s books set in say Connecticut. Or Sex in the City in Peoria. Can you imagine Jack London’s books set in any urban area? Or a Regency set in the 1950’s? Setting is sometimes the defining element of a novel.
So when I begin a book, a lot of thought goes into where it should be set. Some books are easy to define—the setting practically demanding its place in the story. Others are harder to get a handle on. But always it’s important to match the setting to the tone and pacing of the story. And once the decision is made it’s equally important to work to bring that chosen setting to life. If you have the luxury of writing about somewhere you’ve lived or visited, it makes your job much easier. But just because you haven’t been to a place, doesn’t mean you can do the research and still bring it to life.
All three of my time travel novels were set in the past. Two in fourteenth century Scotland and on in the late 1880’s in Colorado. Of course I’ve never visited the past, and yet with the right research I still was able to write authoritatively about those specific times and places. The same is true of contemporary settings. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received concerned the setting of DARK OF THE NIGHT. The woman, a bookseller, wrote to say that she thought the book was so realistic she was certain that I was a native of Atlanta. I’ve never lived there at all. I just did my homework.
Part of a writer’s job is to carry the reader away. And one of the most useful tools in our arsenal is setting. There’s a reason “It was a dark and stormy night…” is the way Snoopy always begins his novels—it sets the tone and allows the reader to anticipate the coming ride. So choose your settings carefully—they have the potential to make or break your books. And when done right, they’ll provide intriguing portals to the world you’ve created for your readers. ♥
BOOK EXCERPT: Read a book excerpt from Dee’s latest thriller DANGEROUS DESIRES at http://www.deedavis.com/bookshelf/dangerousdesires
BOOK GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment for Dee and you will be entered to win a signed ARC of her third book, DESPERATE DEEDS.