Monday, February 05, 2007

The Construction Zone 4. Setting

I've read lots and heard many writers talk about setting at length. And you know what? It doesn't really intrigue me. That sounds awful, I know. But I don't let setting have too much power. For me, the focus needs to be on my protagonists and the rest need to support that. Supporting role ONLY.

We'll talk about Hired By The Cowboy and Marriage at Circle M first, as they are my first 2 Harlequin Romances and are set in the same place.

When Connor and Alex meet, it's in the city, and they are strangers. It's a very different world from the ranch, and when Alex first goes to Windover Ranch, Connor suddenly seems to make sense. The pace is different. The space is wide open and isolated. The setting for the book isn't so much Sundre, but Windover. And the house itself serves not only as a setting but as a symbol to Alex. It symbolizes a life she's never had before, a life she wants but one that is still just beyond her reach.

Use your settings to enhance your characters and storyline.

I used the same setting for Marriage at Circle M, but the feel is different. For one thing, Mike is building his OWN house on Windover land. There is a little more of the small town.

Choosing the right spot for your story to take place, and getting little details right to enhance your story, adds another vivid layer and will contribute to making your book come alive. Yet there's one aspect of setting we haven't talked about yet, and that's WHEN your story takes place.

This is even more important to me, I think. Choosing what time of year my story takes place is central. Could you write the same story in another season? Think about it. If you did, would it be the same story? What is it about the season you've chosen that makes it the RIGHT time?

I set HBTC in early summer. The timing was perfect, IMO. Spring was over, the days were unseasonally warm (as often happens here in May/June). Things were blooming to life...the hay, the garden, Alex's baby was growing inside her...their feelings were blooming too. Then, the rodeo is always late June, so May/June/July were the perfect months for the story to take place.

Marriage at Circle M, on the other hand, wasn't about blooming. It was about wooing and healing, and I used the mellow, golden warmth of autumn. Lazy sunny days and cool nights. It also fell over Thanksgiving (Canadian, which is early October) which added another element. Could I have set it in spring, or winter? Maybe. But I honestly don't think those seasons would have blended with the characters and their development the same way that using the fall did. In fact, I'd wager that if I wrote the same book over, using the same characters and setting but changing the season to late winter, I'd actually have a different book.

Think about books you've read, written or the one you're currently writing. Is the setting in the foreground or background? Is it subtly working over time? Which season are you in...and how does that enhance the plot/character development? For me, working on setting is as easy as being aware of it. If I work too hard at it, it takes over. If I'm merely aware of how it SHOULD function, it seems to find its proper place in the balance of the book. I use the 90/10 rule like I do with research. 90% of what I know stays out. The other 10% goes in and does its job.

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