Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's All in the Geography - Part One

When you choose to read a book, how much of the novel's setting do you you take into consideration? When you read the book blurb, is it the connection you feel with the characters? The conflict and plot? The length of the story? The author? What determines your choice to buy the book?

Do you look to see where the story takes place?

Perhaps you love fantasy/paranormal and the story is set in a world far different from the one we know, or it's an historical novel set two hundred years ago. Is it in the American West? The beaches of the Caribbean? Alaska in the winter? Countless stories are set in many locations throughout one book, but there is usually one place the protagonist calls home. Or desires to call home. As writers, it's imperative we understand our character's reasons for living in Tampa, FL or Chicago, IL or New York City.

There are certain locations I love to read about. New England, Florida, New Orleans, Seattle... Parts of Europe, and many more. These are some of the places I feel a strong visceral connection and love it when featured in a novel.

If I pick up a book and it takes place somewhere I haven't been or don't care to read about, I may not be so inclined to buy the book. This doesn't mean the book isn't wonderful, and to read stories about places and people much different than us can be exhilarating.

As a writer of fiction, I love the process of choosing a setting for my story. Where does my main character live and why? Often times I think of the location before the characters come to me.
It's important for an author to take the time to understand why a story works better in one location than another. To introduce strong, fascinating characters is essential, and to understand why they live where they do, or why they have chosen to move to a new town or city, is important to the character development.

In my latest story -- the beginning of my fourth book -- I created the story and the location during a recent road trip. I drove from west central Florida to Massachusetts. Along the way, I made notations of towns, cities, forests, rivers, bridges, etc., places I felt might make intriguing settings for my novels.
A small town in northern Florida captured my interest as I drove through on Route 301, north of Ocala and south of Jacksonville. The town of Lawtey. It seemed big enough to offer a variety of characters and activities, and small enough to create the atmosphere of country life. What really made me interested in Lawtey for a location was the nearby Lawtey Correctional Institution.
A very juicy seed of an idea took shape, and as I drove the hundreds of miles toward New England, I had a pretty good story beginning by the time I arrived at my destination. :)

It's up to a writer to develop the skill to offer an intriguing, exciting novel for readers to experience, and equally essential to understand and describe a believable setting -- no matter where or when the story takes place.

Is there a particular town, city, or country you love to read about in a novel?


Robin said...

What a wonderful blog on the importance of setting in a story! A sense of place is key to connecting with characters and their lives. Love the photos, too.

Muriel said...

I remember driving through Lawtey, Florida, a northern Florida town that had that southern, conservative feeling about it. And be absolutely sure to drive within the speed limits.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

That's funny, Muriel. When I looked up Lawtey on the Internet for a bit of research I discovered it is known for it's speed traps. :)

Dell Smith said...

You hit on a lot of good ideas here. I like the idea of a character needing to know where home is to them, regardless of whether they actually live there or not. Maybe it is a place they are trying to get to.

I love that you got inspired during your trek north. When I drove cross country in '99, I took pictures and kept a journal and knew I would be using many of the locations I hit on my trip. And, I did, for A Little Disappeared.

I used to only read novels about twenty-something white guys going through periods of angst. Preferably in New York, New England, or L.A. Which is to say, somebody just like me. But I've come a long way, and now crave to read more about other parts of the country, other countries, and different people. White twenty-something guys really bore the hell out of me now.

Thanks Cindy. I look forward to part 2!