Posted On October 26, 2012 by Print This Post

Trish Milburn on Setting as Character

We’re happy to welcome Trish Milburn to the RU campus today! Trish will discuss how setting plays an important role in a story. 

Hello, Trish!

No matter what type of book I’m writing, be it young adult or romantic suspense or paranormal, I like to make setting a living, breathing part of my books, a character in and of itself.  

I tend to write about places that really interest me, ones that have captured my imagination in some way. For Elly: Cowgirl Bride, which was part of a six-book, multi-author, connected series for Harlequin American, it was rural Wyoming, ranch country. I loved bringing in the things I’d seen and experienced when I visited that area a few years ago. There are the soaring mountains, the long miles of emptiness, and the classic western tourist town of Cody with its western décor shops and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. 

For Winter Longing, one of two young adult titles I did for Razorbill, it was more of a challenge since it was set in Alaska and I’d never been there. But that’s what research is for, and with things like blogs by people who live there, GoogleEarth, and a friend who’d lived in the area (and whose brain I could pick), it was fun to create a fictional town set in the midst of a real area.

I have long been fascinated by Alaska, and as a reader myself I love books set there. One of my favorite mystery series is the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow. I’ve probably learned as much about life in Alaska from these books as I have any other source.

My other published novels are all set in places I’ve been – the Gulf Coast of Florida, the mountains of Northeast Tennessee and Colorado. The trilogy I had out from Harlequin American earlier this year, the Teagues of Texas, is set in the Hill Country of Texas. It was fun to create my own town that took its inspiration from several towns in the Hill Country, Fredericksburg, Gruene and Marble Falls among them.

I also had three YA books released by Belle Books this year, and again I’ve drawn on actual places I’ve visited. The first takes place in the mountains of Eastern North Carolina, and books two and three are set in Salem, Massachusetts. For that last setting, I had to take a research trip in July of last year. I spent a day roaming around Salem, taking photos, visiting museums and shops, and soaking up the atmosphere.

I think the books are better for that first-hand experience. 


Now, I’m curious. Does a book’s setting matter to you? What are some examples of ones that have really come alive for you?


MAGICK is the third book of Trish’s Coven Trilogy.
The covens are coming for her.
But is she a White Witch or a Dark Witch? In a war for control of the witch world, the answer will save–or doom–everyone she loves.In White Witch, Jax gained friends she’d die for and a staggering power that threatens them all.

In Bane, Jax did the unthinkable and killed a supernatural hunter to protect her friends. She found herself lost in darkness and prisoner to the Bane, a secret society of witches sworn to prevent the use of the dark magic.

Now, in Magick, the powers of Jax and her friend Egan have been magically bound by the Bane. She must convince the Bane she can learn to control her power and become a White Witch in truth. She’s their only hope now that the dark covens have called a Conclave with one purpose–to kill this generation’s White Witch and anyone who has ever stood with her. If Jax can’t amass an army of her own, rebuild the trust of her friends and boyfriend, and find the White Witch’s elusive weapon against the dark, it may be too late.


We hope you’ll join us on Monday, October 29th when Jamie Michele presents 12 Steps to a Heart-Wrenching Romance.   


Bio: Trish Milburn writes for Harlequin American Romance, Harlequin Nocturne, and Belle Bridge Books and self-publishes some of her other titles. She’s a two-time Golden Heart award winner, fan of walks in the woods and road trips, and is a big geek girl, including being a dedicated Whovian and Browncoat. Fans of Doctor Who and Firefly will know what those mean. 🙂

To learn more about Trish, check out her website or connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.  

Similar Posts:

Share Button



14 Responses to “Trish Milburn on Setting as Character”

  1. Hi Trish,

    I haven’t travelled much. I base my books in Chicago, my hometown. There are so many sides to the city, easy to pick locations.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | October 26, 2012, 9:11 am
    • Mary Jo, that’s the great part about setting stories in a big city. It’s like it’s several settings in one. One part of the city can vary so widely from another. And since you live there, it’s easier to do on-to-scene research.

      Posted by Trish Milburn | October 26, 2012, 11:42 am
  2. Morning Trish!

    I’m not a traveler by any means..=) haven’t been out of state for years! So all of my settings are based mostly on research or a made up town in an area where I have been. So I understand doing the research part – but I don’t feel I make it come alive, as in many books I’ve read (JD Robb books always amaze me with how much I can just “see” the world they’re in!). Any helpful hints on how to make your setting more real to the reader?


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 26, 2012, 9:13 am
  3. Hi, Carrie. Think about the setting through your senses. Say your setting is a small town in Autumn. Things to make it come alive might be the varying shades of the turning leaves, the sound of the fallen leaves blowing along the ground in the wind, earthy scents from the leaves and maybe even fires if people are burning piles of leaves, the bright blue of the sky on a warm day because the summer humidity isn’t making the sky hazy anymore, maybe there is just a tiny nip in the air that hints at the coming winter. The bring a town alive, you could have a fall/harvest festival, kids running through a pumpkin patch or corn maze, fall decorations in front of the little shops that line Main Street, windows painted for the local high school football team’s homecoming game. If you’re writing about a real place, mention specifics without being too heavy-handed with it. For instance, in my novel Living in Color, the latter part of the novel is set on the Gulf Coast, in the Destin/Fort Walton Beach area. I have a scene where the heroine comes across the hero and a team saving an injured dolphin. They then take the dolphin to the Gulfarium for care and rehab. I’ve been to the Gulfarium, so I was able to pepper in a few details about the facility and the surrounding area.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for your question.

    Posted by Trish Milburn | October 26, 2012, 11:51 am
  4. *waves madly* You are so prolific, Trish – I’m in awe! I’ll never forget the workshop you did for the Ohio Valley Romance Writers some time back, where you discussed your road to publication. It was very inspiring, and I’m happy to see you’re still going strong! I’d missed your Coven trilogy somehow – I’ll have to correct that asap!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 26, 2012, 2:14 pm
  5. Great post, Trish! I agree. One of the reasons I love to read is to be transported to other places.

    Settings I love: does anyone do it better than JK Rowling? I feel like I’ve taken classes at Hogwarts after having read those books.

    Stephen King is another good one for a recurrent setting. Castle Rock is a fictional town, but the descriptions are so vivid, they make me want to visit Maine. Except, you know, for the demonic clowns in the storm drains and the cursed antiques stores. 🙂

    From fellow mystery authors, I am currently obsessed with Susan M. Boyer’s Stella Maris from her Liz Talbot series. I’m sad that she made up this island, because I’d like to visit.

    I’m going to check out your Hill Country series! I grew up in Texas, and Gruene is one of my favorite places on Earth. The Grist Mill has the best chicken fried steak in the South.

    Thanks again for the great post!

    Posted by LynDee Walker | October 26, 2012, 3:22 pm
    • I’ve been to the Grist Mill once and liked it. I have to admit that the one place I absolutely have to eat every time I go to Texas is Guenther House in San Antonio, home to the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever eaten.

      I’m with you on Hogwarts. I cannot wait until I get to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando one of these days.

      Posted by Trish Milburn | October 26, 2012, 4:36 pm
  6. Hi Trish!

    The title of your post is so fitting.

    I agonize over settings because it does play such an important role. I think a character’s interaction with the setting adds dimension to the character, and it’s a great an opportunity to weave in some backstory. Setting can also add conflict and as you pointed out, setting is a way to ramp up the sensory in a story.

    I didn’t enjoy spending my high school years in a Nowhereville. But that experience has helped me write rural/agricultural settings.

    I like city living, but I’m attracted to stories that take place in small towns. Small southern towns are among my favorite settings.

    The Internet makes it easy to research locations, but I agree that it can’t compare with experiencing a place first hand.

    You write across several sub-genres. Is that something you planned to do all along? Does a setting come first before characters and story premise?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | October 26, 2012, 3:54 pm
    • Hi, Jennifer. I’d like to say that I agree with everything you said. 🙂 I grew up in a little town (two stoplights in the entire county, and you can see them from each other) but now live in a city and write about small towns. 🙂

      I don’t know that I planned to write across several sub-genres. I just happened to get ideas for several different types of books, and I’m fortunate that I can write quickly. Also, being able to do different kinds of stories helps prevent boredom for me as a writer. And hopefully it keeps everything fresh.

      Characters and plot tend to come to me first, usually in tandem. But I will say I’ve visited some places where I want to set stories. I’m just waiting for the right characters and plots to place there.

      Posted by Trish Milburn | October 26, 2012, 4:40 pm
  7. While I haven’t traveled very much, I am great at sitting around online for too many hours each day. I’ve started using that skill to build my settings by finding as much information and as many pictures of a place I’d love to visit. From there, I go to Google Maps and try to get a street level view for key places.

    Posted by Heather | October 27, 2012, 9:21 pm
  8. Trish,

    A big thank you for blogging with us!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | October 28, 2012, 6:20 pm
  9. I’ve lived in six countries and draw a lot from the culture of the local people as well as the place. I can have a story taking place in PA but the main character would be from the middle east.

    Posted by Armada Volya | October 29, 2012, 10:15 pm

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts





Follow Us