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Get Ready: Is your SETTING ready? #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Get Ready: Is Your Setting Ready? #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.comSometimes, the geographic location of a story is an integral part of the premise. Other times, we have to figure out where the best setting for our story will be. And this is something you need to know before you get into the planning stage.

Where Is Your Story Set?
Placing your story in the right location is just as vital to its success as choosing the right characters and the right premise.

One of the prime examples I like to give for this when teaching workshops is Stand-In Groom. Because the premise of the story involves a celebrity whose identity must be kept secret, it needed to be set in a location where seeing a celebrity is rare. It also needed to be a city that was big enough for amenities, such as a large event center and a business infrastructure that would support planning a wedding as large as the one Anne is hired to plan. So, while I love Nashville, it was automatically out—it’s a city where celebrity sightings are frequent, and the biggest result is the identification of locals (who don’t approach) and tourists (who want autographs and photos).

Because I’d spent fourteen or fifteen years before coming up with the idea for SIG developing a fictional small city in central Louisiana that includes elements of many other cities where I’ve lived or visited, I decided it would make a perfect backdrop for this story. It gave me the opportunity to create and include any of the types of venues and businesses that I needed for everything that happens in the story, while still incorporating the real-world culture of Louisiana.

Could I have set this story in a fictional city of similar size in, say, New England or the Pacific Northwest? Sure. But since I’ve never lived there, I don’t know the culture. I could have made Anne’s large extended family Italian or Greek instead of Cajun. But, again, I don’t know those cultures. And there are so many fun elements about a large southern family and the Louisiana setting (crawfish boils! Mardi Gras-themed events! unique names! even more of a culture shock for my British hero!) that I was able to incorporate into the story which, I hope, sets it apart from books set elsewhere.

Elements to Consider When Choosing a Setting:

  • Is there a setting that has a unique culture that can play a role in your story? Think of places that have cultures that are unique to them: Santa Fe, Louisiana, Las Vegas, the Deep South, Hawaii, a small fishing town on the coast of Maine, etc. What are the unique elements of a setting that you can incorporate into your characters’ background/mannerisms/behavior and into how your story unfolds?
  • What are the elements of the culture you need to make sure you get absolutely right? If you’ve read my Bonneterre books, you know I don’t have people walking around calling each other cher or babbling in Cajun French. If you live somewhere with a unique culture and watch movies/TV shows set there, what are the things that they get wrong that drive you crazy? How can you make sure you get those elements right?
  • What are some specific locations and/or events you can incorporate into your story? In the Matchmakers series, set in Nashville, I have my girls meet for coffee on Sunday afternoons at The Frothy Monkey in the 12 South neighborhood. In the Bonneterre series, with my fictional setting, I created Beignets S’il Vous Plait, a beignets-and-coffee shop reminiscent of Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans or Coffee Call in Baton Rouge. Use specific locations, but have a reason for using those locations. Don’t just “name drop.”
  • How can your setting affect how your story plays out? For example, if you’re writing suspense and your characters are on the run outdoors, they’re going to run into much different conflicts in a mountainous area than in a desert than in a jungle. Is it cold and snowy? hot and humid? Does your character have environmental allergies that could affect whether or not he’s able to do the physical activities required of him in the plot?
  • What’s the “mood” of your setting? Think about the cliche of the gothic novel being set in a creepy, dark, old castle with a labyrinth of hallways, tunnels, and dungeons. There’s a reason why it’s become cliche—because it works. One of my favorite YA novels from childhood is a gothic, but it’s set in a recently built Victorian mansion in Northern California in the late 1800s. The author uses the house, and the fog that envelops it daily, to great effect. How can the weather, the landscape, the culture of your setting affect and effect the mood of your story?

Is Your SETTING Ready?

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