Blythe Gifford joins us at RU today – and will be giving away a commenters choice of one of her Brunson Clan Trilogy books! Make sure you leave your email address!
For the last several years, the writing conversation has framed the chicken and egg question as character vs. plot. But I think that setting (where and when the story takes place) is perhaps the single most fundamental decision an author makes. Here are my reasons. See if you agree.
Setting is the fundamental marketing decision. A story’s setting determines who is likely to publish and read it. Contemporary or historical, science fiction or urban fantasy, urban or rural, each of these opens one door and closes another. I write historical romance, which means that readers who “don’t like history” or “only read paranormal” won’t pick up my book. (Even Regency-only readers will write me off!) It also means that publishing houses that focus on certain types of stories won’t publish mine, no matter how good it may be.
Before they crack the cover, your setting will create readers expectations about your story. New York City or a small town in Amish country? Each brings connotations, things the reader assumes without you having to write a word. (One of the challenges, I believe, in unfamiliar settings and time periods is that readers don’t know what to expect.) Can you turn those expectations upside down? Yes, but that will add another hurdle to your task as a writer.
This is why I say it is the single most important choice for your career. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that setting is entirely a choice. Someone once asked me why I didn’t write contemporary romance. I looked at them blankly for a moment and then answered “I don’t get any contemporary ideas.” On some level, we are called to write in a particular setting. But we must be conscious of all the implications.
So – what about character?
Setting is the fundamental character decision. Your choice of setting will create your character and your character’s reaction to the setting will create the story. Let me explain.
First, consider the place the character grew up. Lawrence Durrell, one of my favorite writers, once said “I willingly admit to seeing ‘characters’ almost as functions of a landscape.” That speaks to me. Did your hero grow up on the Western plains where being a loner is prized, possibilities look endless, and re-invention is a way of life? Or is he a nobleman surrounded by tidy gardens, servants to cater to his whims and bearing the weight of hundreds of years of family obligations? Did she spend her life within the sound of the sea, the sight of the Empire State Building, or on a family farm? The landscape will shape her (or him) deeply.
Second, setting, place AND time, creates backstory. Did your character grow up during wartime or peacetime? In the midst of plague or prosperity? Conventional wisdom says that character is largely shaped by the age of ten. Be sure you know what shaped your character’s early years. I’ve written many stories set during the fourteenth century and I must always begin by asking what happened to my character’s family when the Black Death rolled across the land.
Finally, what is your character’s relation to the setting of the story itself? Is your character at home or away from home? In a situation s/he loves or one s/he hates? Somewhere s/he wants to stay or from which s/he longs to escape? The setting you choose symbolizes your character’s situation and your character’s reaction to that situation propels the story.
My current Brunson Clan trilogy is set on the Scottish Borders during the early Tudor era. In the first book, the youngest son comes home for the first time in years, someplace he does NOT want to be. In the second book, the daughter leaves the home she loves to go to court, a place where she is a “fish out of water.” The third book takes place back in the home valley, where the oldest son has always lived and where he must come to terms with his new role as the head of the family. This makes each a very different story, although the family, landscape, and time period are consistent.
I hope I’ve sparked some reasons for you to put setting at the top of your list as you consider your next project.
CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD is Book Two of The Brunson Clan trilogy.
TO MARRY HIM WILL BE TO BETRAY HER FAMILY
Bessie, the selfless sister of the powerful but stubborn Brunson clan, has sacrificed herself for her family’s honor and is at the mercy of the court of King James. Ill-suited to court life, she must confront their mortal enemy, Lord Thomas Carwell, dressed in nothing but borrowed finery and pride.
Underneath the relentless gaze of her captor, she’s enticed not only by him but also by the opulence of a world far removed from her own. When the furious king demands her brother’s head, Carwell is the only one to whom she can turn. But she must pay the ultimate price for his protection….
So, what IS the setting of your current work in progress?
Join us on Wednesday for Oliver Rhodes and The importance of feedback: and how it can make you a better author.
Bio: Blythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, launced a trilogy set on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era, starting with RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012, Harlequin Historical. CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD will follow in January 2013, and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL in March 2013. The Chicago Tribune has called her work “the perfect balance between history and romance.” Visit her at www.blythegifford.com, www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford, or on Twitter @BlytheGifford.
Author photo by Jennifer Girard. Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
- Trish Milburn on Setting as Character
- Setting—It’s More Than The Name of a City with Kat Cantrell
- The Importance of Setting with Meredith Bond
- AMM: The Code of Chivalry: Man in the Middle Ages
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, January 28-February 1, 2013