The Importance of Setting in a Novel

UPDATE: This blog post won an award for “media post” at the 2015 LUW writers conference.

*****

Write what you know. How many times have I heard that? Oh man, probably at every conference I have ever gone to, multiple times.

I know setting.

Long before I was ever an author, I would surround myself in settings which filled my soul with wonder. I would cover my limbs and face with autumn leaves to feel the smell. I would spend many nights under the stars, listening to the scurrying of little animals and the sounds of wind applauding my appreciation through the trees. The stillness would settle in my heart and when I began to bring pen and paper with me to different settings, my world became magical.

To me, setting should breathe like a character. It isn’t just streets, buildings, and names of towns — it is the lifeblood which weaves your characters and plot together. It shouldn’t be tacked in, but rather an integral part of the story. It grounds the reader.

It should also ground the author. The author carries the responsibility to bring details that are often overlooked. Especially, in my opinion, when it comes to nature.

Image-3

Pilot and Index Peak – Cooke City, Montana

Recently, I returned from a long trip through Montana and Yellowstone. I have visited many times and even lived there at one point. Those wild, rustic places are some of my favorite spots in the world and I felt the heavy burden to show my love for it in one of my novels. I hadn’t been up there for over a dozen years and I started creating the setting for my novel through memory. When I had finished my book, I was satisfied. But something tugged at me to visit those places again. Either my wild heart, or the pull to immerse myself in those mountains.

Arming myself with laptop, pens and journals, I was ready to take my story to battle and add details that were missing and change a few things. I was surprised when I came home and realized that I had never even written one word when I had surrounded myself in the nature I so dearly love. Why? It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means, but looking back, my body and soul yearned to feel the lifeblood of the setting. I didn’t need to muddle it with words, I needed to experience it and let the setting wash through me.

In this world where setting and placement are so often overlooked or replaced with handheld devices that capture our attention, authors need to work harder to ground the reader. We need to scream at our readers to notice detail. It breaks my heart every time I see someone surrounded by stunning scenery and their faces are aglow with the pale light of a handheld device.

Here are a few ways you can bring your setting to life in your novel, followed by some examples I have written.

*Be specific – it isn’t only a flower, describe the details. example: The vibrant purple petals stretched beneath an indigo hat which drooped over a white lip and a yellow bearded pouch. (Calypso Orchid)

*Sprinkle in similes and metaphors to connect – example: His temper was like a loose cannon. It could explode at any given time and I would be the set target.

*Use the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, feel – This one is huge! I love to incorporate the senses. – example: My stomach was empty, which was good, because the smell hit me, and I heaved once more against the vacant remains of my belly. The putrid, decaying stench of rotten flesh made my eyes water.

*Show, don’t tell – instead of stating that its raining, describe the dripping trees, the puddles gathering in the crevices of rock, and the pattering on tin resembling tinkling bells.

Here is an excerpt from my novel Broken Smiles. The setting is in China, another one of my favorite places. I hope you can feel my love for it as you read my words.

Here and there rocks were covered with ancient moss. Orchids blossomed spontaneously upon the trees. Vines hung like ropes and twine, twisting upon the rubber and the banyan trees. Bamboo stood proudly against the moonlight, casting shadows that had been the same for thousands of years. Away from big city lights and pollution, it was easy to be transported back in time to ancient China. This land had managed to remain untouched throughout the different emperors and dynasties. As they walked, they passed a small ancient graveyard built against the hillside. The limestone shrines glowed mysteriously in the moonlight. Chinese characters and mini-sculptures were carved in the pale rock. Incense smoldered on the top of an old gravestone…

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you Jodi Milner over at http://myliteraryquest.wordpress.com for the opportunity to be a part of this blog tour. Jodi writes epic fantasy and is a very talented writer. She is my Vice President in Anwa Storytellers. She keeps me in line and helps me, as the President, to remember upcoming dates, introduce new members, and nudges me to stay on track during our meetings! I tend to be scatterbrained. (ask my kids and husband!) I am always anxious to hear her feedback because she offers marvelous critiquing.

The blog tour asks for four questions.

What am I working on?

Well, a lot actually! I am deep into editing for my debut novel Broken Smiles, set tentatively for an August release through Astraea Press. To counter the rigorous brain-pain of editing, I have to write creatively.

My creative outlet right now, is working on the second book in the Vagabond trilogy. It is a Young Adult Fantasy and dark romance. Hop on over to my “Works in Progress” for more info on those books. I am so excited for this series! Although they still need work before I submit, I feel like my writing has grown since I started on them almost three years ago. I did get a request for the manuscript from my dream publisher. So, I am also polishing the first novel to send over to them.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

My novel Vagabond differs because I want it to feel real. Sure, it has plenty of fantastical elements, but I also want to create a sense that my novels could actually be real. The creatures in Vagabond are a subject that many people actually believe in – Sasquatch!

For many summers, I would move horses through the mountains of Montana to a horse ranch. In college, the mountains called me home and I moved there. My love for that part of the world runs through my veins like the raging wild rivers that weave through that majestic country. I think because of my deep love for the mountains, the setting of Yellowstone National Park comes alive. I have actually referred to my journals and sketchbooks while I lived there, to echo into my novels. It’s been a fun world to escape into.

Why do I write what I do?

Um, because the story won’t leave me alone until I do!

I know this is ridiculous, but I have a contemporary Women’s Romance fiction (Broken Smiles), a YA fantasy trilogy (Vagabond), a middle grade series (from a young boys perspective), a Christmas novella, a screenplay, and a children’s book. It’s such an amateur move to write in so many different genres.

Do I care? . . . No!

I am still finding my voice. I am still finding my niche. I know I love writing romance, but I have really enjoyed exploring writing things my two boys would like.

How does my writing process work?

The process of writing, for me, usually occurs in the middle of the night, when everyone else is asleep. Or, I tend to be a professional daydreamer (hence the comment above about being scatterbrained!)

I have long sheets of butcher paper for every novel on the walls next to my bed. I have numbered all of the chapters in my books. During the dark hours, when my brain wakes me up with an idea or a passage of dialogue, I click on my Petzl headlight and scribble down my ideas onto the chapter where it should go. I can hopefully then fall asleep again. When the thoughts won’t leave me alone, I sigh, grab my computer, and head downstairs to write until the genius (see link) leaves me.

So I guess this explains why I look like a zombie sometimes and why I occasionally zone out when someone is talking to me.

 – Tara Mayoros –

I now will continue this blog on to a couple outstanding authors. Check out their blogs and books.

Jeff Salter – http://taketwoonromance.weebly.com

Bio: Jeff Salter is a Somerset, KY resident. Published by Astraea Press & Dingbat Publishing. Retired library administrator. Former newspaper photo-journalist & editor. U.S. Air Force veteran. Fiction already released: four novels & two novellas. Three new releases scheduled for 2014.

Brenda Gallaherhttp://brendabirchgallaher.blogspot.com

Bio: Brenda Birch Gallaher is a writer who has lived in 22 states and has visited 9 foreign countries. She is the middle of five children so she has plenty of accidents/incidents from her childhood to choose from to include in any given story she is writing on. She has one novel out to a publisher waiting for a good answer while working on her next project.