Kimberly Kincaid is an artist when it domes to depicting settings that act as additional characters in her books – and I’m not just saying that because I’m her critique partner. Whether it is in the Blue Ridge Mountains or the sensual environs of the kitchen . . . she’s got lots to share. Welcome KK!
Welcome Home: How Setting Can Make Your Series Sing
Take a second to think about some of your favorite romance novels. Chances are, they’re on your “best of” list for a variety of reasons. Appealing characters, engaging emotional journeys, action-packed and fast-paced plots…all of these things can make or break a book. But there’s something about the setting of a story that can pull me in almost faster than any of those other things. When stories have a strong sense of setting, they make a reader feel welcome, feel special, and feel at home in the book. The story goes from creating a place they want to read about to a place they want to be, often times again and again.
So let’s talk first about the nuts and bolts of story setting. Simply put, your setting is the time and place where your story takes place. Victorian-era Scottish village? Present-day American city? Distant planet in the more-distant future? All of these settings call up a certain kind of book, and all of them have the potential to hook your reader from page one. Whatever you choose for your story, you’ll want to make sure it fits in as well as stands out. While your setting should be a good match for the rest of your story elements, you’ll want to make it unique enough that readers will remember exactly where your book took place.
Fact versus fiction—should you go with a real setting (either past of present) or make one up? The beauty is that both have great potential and both can take your book to the next level. Regardless of which you choose, though, consistency is key. If you’ve got a grocery store on the corner of Main Street or a space station on the planet Zoltar, it needs to stay there throughout your book (or series, which we’ll talk about it a second). Likewise, if you’re using a real city, it’s crucial to get your facts right. Laura Kaye’s new contemporary, Hard As It Gets is a great example of this, as is Julie James’s Love Irresistibly. Both authors chose real cities (Baltimore and Chicago, respectively) to set their stages, and their knowledge of those cities shows. Is it okay to take a bit of license amidst all your facts? Sure. After all, we write fiction. But you’re going to have readers who are from your cities, and they will point it out if you get their hometowns completely backwards. Fictional settings within real places can help alleviate this a bit—I do it in my “line” series, which is set in fictional Brentsville, which is in very real upstate New York. But the rules still apply in terms of keeping it constant. The diner I put on Fourth Street in book one had to stay on Fourth Street throughout the series.
And speaking of series! What better way to cultivate books your readers will want to come back to than by putting them in a place your readers will know by heart and inviting them back again and again? Robin Covington’s “boys” books are a great example of this. She gives readers the fantastic town of Elliot, Virginia, and with each addition to the series, readers get to go back and see familiar haunts along with familiar faces. The sense of comfort and continuity brings readers back. And settings don’t have to be small-town or homey in order to make this work. Think of JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. Parts of Caldwell are downright scary! But fans of those books know the city like they know their reflections. Ward gives us an amazing picture of not only the city, but the local hangouts that appear in each book.
Lastly, treat your setting like a character. You’d never write a character (even a secondary one) and not describe him or her for your reader, so don’t pull up on your setting, either. I’m not suggesting that you go into paragraph after paragraph of endless description. But you wouldn’t do that for a person, either. You give your reader glimpses over time, and the more you’re around that character, the better your reader knows him or her. If you carry this idea over to setting, offering up different locations or perspective on those locations as your story progresses, you’ll create a place that will make your readers feel like they are there.
So tell me! What are some books where setting totally stood out for you? Hooked you in? Made you feel like it was along for the ride with the characters (and you)? And what types of settings appeal to you most?
I think Kimberly asked some great questions – so leave a comment!
Tomorrow Amy Alessio recommends classic romance.
Kimberly Kincaid writes contemporary romance that splits the difference between sexy and sweet. When she’s not sitting cross-legged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber”, she can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. Kimberly is a 2011 RWA Golden Heart® finalist who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love. Her digital “line” series is all about the hot cops and sexy chefs of Brentsville, New York. She is also thrilled to have collaborated on a Christmas anthology with Donna Kauffman and Kate Angell, titled The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap, to kick off her Pine Mountain foodie series with Kensington books, to be followed by her first full-length print novel, Turn Up the Heat. Kimberly resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters. Visit her any time at www.kimberlykincaid.com  or come check her out on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kimberly.kincaid1 ) and Twitter (@kimberlykincaid).
Her latest release, PUSHING THE LINE , is available now.