The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Great Wall of China. Trafalgar Square. Even if you’ve never visited these places, they are familiar images. Loucinda McGary is back with another Novel Spots post on setting and how the use of iconic landmarks can set the stage for your story.
Recently I watched the Woody Allen film To Rome with Love. I love Woody Allen films, among other reasons because he uses his settings so effectively, and he is never better than in To Rome with Love. In fact the film, which is comprised of three playful storylines, is a visual love poem to the Eternal City. Rather than shying away from the sights that fill every guidebook on Rome, Allen relishes them by moving his characters in and out of famous locales like the Spanish Steps, the Coliseum, and the Victor Emmanuel Monument. One of the stories opens with the pretty American asking the way to the famous Trevi Fountain, and of course, she falls in love with the handsome Roman businessman who leads her there. Instead of veering into cliché, the scene is believably sweet and the audience is so grounded in the magical place that they are captivated by both the characters and the setting.
When the movie was over, I thought about ways that film makers use iconic images to immediately ground the viewer in settings. One quick shot of the Chrysler Building and we all know the action is happening in New York City. Ditto, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Washington Monument, or the St. Louis Arch, and don’t even get me started on Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen any or all of these wonderful sights up close and personal, or only in books, post cards or on the web. Certain places are instantly recognizable, and can serve as a way to immediately connect to a setting.
As writers, I think we need to capitalize on this instant recognition factor. No need for an info dump when a few select images will do. Ground your reader in the setting by presenting an easily recognizable image. Have the Washington Monument stabbing at the crescent moon, or fog creeping up the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to famous landmarks. A small white church with a tall steeple easily establishes a New England setting, just as a Saguaro cactus distinguishes the Southwest.
In my latest release, His Reluctant Bodyguard, I used the most well-known landmark in Puerto Rico, the 16th century citadel called El Morro. Chances are many readers have seen pictures of this historic site, or if not, a quick click on Google will provide dozens of images. Here’s how I used it for instant recognition:
“… His dark eyes took on a mischievous sparkle. ‘I saw this fantastic looking old fort when we were coming into port this morning. Can’t we just go out and take a quick look at it?’
‘That’s El Morro, the original Spanish fortress,’ Avery explained.
“In truth, she would enjoy seeing it too. Strictly for the historical perspective, of course. Not because she wanted to be alone with Rip. At least that’s what she told her conscience to help alleviate the sting of guilt. She stashed Rip’s bag under the customer service counter, and fifteen minutes later, they were in a taxi headed to El Morro, which was perched on a rocky promontory at the tip of the harbor…
“A few minutes later they arrived at the parking lot, paid the cabbie, and started the long uphill walk over the grassy park to the fort itself. Much to Avery’s relief, a fresh breeze had picked up, making the humidity far less stifling.”
Beware of falling into clichés. These iconic landmarks got that way by constant exposure. Notice that I took care not to give a static description of what El Morro looked like. Instead, I dropped some brief hints, and showed the landmark through the dialogue and point-of-view of the characters.
I took a lesson from the master, Woody Allen. All those gorgeous scenes he shot in and around Rome were secondary to his characters. This was their story after all, and while it could not have taken place anywhere else, the characters were the ones the audience had to care about.
Have you tried using something in your setting that readers could instantly recognize? What are some landmarks (other than the ones I’ve already mentioned) you’ve read about that really set a scene for you? Which ones would you like to see?
Join us on Monday, March 11th, when Kimberly Kincaid presents: Putting the Heat on Foodie Romance.
HIS RELUCTANT BODYGUARD is the second book in Loucinda’s Adventure Cruise Line series.
The last person cruise director Avery Knox expected to see aboard her
very first trip out on Valiant is former college football star, Rip Pollendene. A decade ago, she had turned down his advances at the University of Miami and lived to regret her decision. Why is she so reluctant to take the second chance she’s been handed?
“Rip Pollendene is the heir apparent to a beautiful island nation. But it’s a heritage Rip has ignored and rejected for twenty years. Now his homeland is on the brink of a bloody civil war with outside forces trying to manipulate the outcome. Is that why someone wants him dead?
“How much should Rip sacrifice for a country he hardly knows? And is it sheer coincidence that has thrown golden girl Avery Knox back into his life?”
Bio: A Golden Heart finalist, Loucinda McGary is the author of three contemporary romantic suspense novels, The Wild Sight, The Treasures of Venice and The Wild Irish Sea. Her later books, The Sidhe Prince, High Seas Deception, and His Reluctant Bodyguard, are available on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.
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