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Setting—It’s More Than The Name of a City with Kat Cantrell

A big thank-you today for Kat Cantrell [1] who’s filling in for Handsome Hansel on super short notice. Her post below on setting is a definite keeper!

Kat_CantrellOne of the greatest inventions of the last ten years is the HD TV. I love to watch any show with great panoramic scenes of gorgeous places in the world, but my favorite is Aerial America on the Smithsonian channel. There’s just something soul shaking about those amazing shots of snow-capped mountains, beaches, strange animals and bursting-with-life flora—whatever is native to the state in question. I’ve visited the best of America’s landmarks without ever leaving my couch.

One of my goals as a writer is to infuse that same visual punch and gut feeling into my scenes. I want my readers to feel like they’ve been to the places my characters go. But I don’t have a 55-inch television screen available in every reader’s home to convey my setting. So I use the only thing available to me: words.

Which is hard.

I know, all of writing is hard. But setting is often what we use to *ahem* set the scene. If you’ve ever had someone tell you they don’t feel grounded in the scene, I translate that to, “I have no idea where these people are or how they feel about where they are.” Setting is so much more than deciding your story takes place in XYZ city. It’s about visualizing where your characters are physically located at all times from Chapter One to The End, and then, oh by the way, conveying that to the reader in an unobtrusive way. (Information dump, I’m looking at you!)

Cover_MTAPIn order to do that, you gotta know where they are. Easier said than done, right? Here’s where the modern digital age comes in handy!

So I wrote a book set in a fictional country with a fictional monarchy (Matched To A Prince, which not-so-coincidentally releases today!). At first I was all, “YAY! I get to make it all up,” and then I was all, “Holy crud on a cracker. I have to make it all up!” In order to do so, I based my prince’s country on Monaco because, well, it’s Monaco and I write for Harlequin Desire. First things first, I went to Google Images and found some pictures of Monaco and saved them to a Pinterest board I set up for each of my books. Next, I went to Google maps and took a bunch of screen shots of where Monaco is in relation to other countries so I’d have my geography straight.

I had my larger setting, so I moved on to what I’ll call interior shots. The prince and his Cinderella are kidnapped and held in a deserted vacation house on a small island off the coast of this fictional country. I saved some more pictures of island villas in the Mediterranean to Pinterest, both interior and exterior, and last but not least, I created a map of the island in Power Point so I would know my directions.

Sounds like a lot of work. It was. <grin> But I think it was worth it. I used these images over and over as I wrote, and tried to describe them as best I could through the eyes of my characters.

Here’s a glimpse of Delamer (taken straight from my Monaco pictures):

9780373733286The Delamer Coast Guard administrative building disappeared behind them and Finn’s homeland unrolled through the windows.

Tourist season had officially started. Bright vendor booths lined the waterfront, selling everything from outrageously priced sunscreen to caricatures quickly drawn by sidewalk artists. Hand-holding couples wandered along the boardwalk and young mothers pushed strollers in the treed park across from the public beach.

And Juliet’s first impression of Ill D’Étienne, the fictional island where she’s held captive (also taken from my pictures):

A breathtaking panorama of sparkling sea unfolded beyond a wall of glass. The house perched on a low cliff overlooking the water. That particular shade of blue was etched on her heart and her breath caught.

“We’re on an island.”

She was home. Back on the Mediterranean, close to everything she loved. She’d sailed these waters often enough to recognize the hills rising behind the city, the coastal landscape.

Home. She never thought she’d see it again. The small ripples in the surface of the water. The wheeling birds. The sky studded with puffy clouds. All of the poetic nuances of the sea bled into her chest, squeezing it, nearly wrenching loose a sob.

This scene when Juliet and Finn are arguing about how to escape is where the Power Point map of my fictional island came in handy:

Matched To Her Rival_coverHis gaze cut to the sea lapping at the rocky coastline behind her. “Swim where?”

“To shore.” She nodded toward the south bank of St. Tropez. “It’s not more than two miles if I head to the French side.”

“You’ve never swam a stretch like that in your life. What makes you think you can do it now?” His tone was deceptively even, but she heard the condescension underneath. He thought she was too weak and too female.

“I can swim two miles. I’ve done it lots of times.” She’d have that drive to succeed in her favor too, born of desperation to get out of this situation at all costs.

“There’s a big difference between doing it in shallow water where we sail and doing it from Île de Etienne to St. Tropez.” He gripped her shoulders earnestly. “Juliet, this is a rocky area. The boating lanes were cleared of submerged obstacles, so I could see you making the mistake of thinking the whole area’s clear. It’s not. You’re talking about swimming in a straight line across open water.”


And there you have my take on how to infuse pop-off-the-page setting into your story. Oh, and if you want to check out the Matched To A Prince Pinterest board, here’s the link: http://www.pinterest.com/katcantrell47/matched-to-a-prince/ [2]

Thanks for hanging out with me today! What do you use to get your setting straight as you’re telling your story?

Matched To A Prince is the second in the Happily Ever After trilogy, releasing back-to-back in July, August and September, 2014.

Buy links: Amazon [3] | ibooks [4] | B&N [5] | Kobo [6]

How could she be his perfect match? 

Prince Alain “Finn” Phineas pledged his love to Juliet Villere once—and she betrayed him. Despite the desire he still feels, Finn would never act on those feelings again. Not even when Juliet is chosen for him by an elite matchmaker. Then fate, in the form of the royal family, intervenes. 

Trapped alone on a beautiful island, they are held “captive” until Finn can convince Juliet to marry him and end a political nightmare. His motives should be about serving his country. So why does his heart yearn for a second chance with Juliet…a real chance this time….


What do you use to get your setting straight as you’re telling your story?

Join us on Monday for Anna Sugden.


Bio: Kat read her first Harlequin novel in third grade and has been scribbling in notebooks since she learned to spell. What else would she write but romance? When she’s not writing about characters on the journey to happily ever after, she can be found at a soccer game, watching Friends or dancing with her kids to Duran Duran and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kat, her husband and their two boys live in North Texas. She’s a proud member of Romance Writers of America®. Kat was the 2011 Harlequin So You Think You Can Write winner and a 2012 RWA® Golden Heart® finalist for best unpublished series contemporary manuscript. She writes passionate stories about smart, sassy heroines and the men who try to keep up with them for Harlequin Desire and Carina Press.
Visit Kat’s website [1] and follow her on Facebook [7] and Twitter [8].

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12 Comments To "Setting—It’s More Than The Name of a City with Kat Cantrell"

#1 Comment By Kat Cantrell On August 1, 2014 @ 7:27 am

Thanks for having me Carrie!

#2 Comment By Carrie Spencer On August 1, 2014 @ 9:46 am

Morning Kat!

Thank YOU for filling in! Much appreciated!

I admit, I do setting last when writing. Most of the time my characters walk around in a landscape that *I* can see, but they have nothing but barren gray wasteland around them. Usually about 3/4 the way through, I finally start thinking hey, my characters are walking around in a barren gray wasteland! lol…then I go back and add in the setting. Not the best way for it to work!

Beautiful descriptions above about your fake island. All of the poetic nuances of the sea bled into her chest… nice. =)

You put a lot of working into making up your own country, but it sure reads like it was worth it!


#3 Comment By Kat Cantrell On August 1, 2014 @ 10:11 am

Thanks Carrie! I admit, I used to have a barren gray wasteland too…that’s why I had to develop something to get it on the page as I was writing because between you and me? I hate revisions! I’d rather get it right much sooner. 🙂

#4 Comment By Linda George On August 1, 2014 @ 11:10 am

Hi, Kat! I once heard setting described as “orchestrated landscape.” I also heard that details about setting can strengthen characterization as long as descriptions are woven into the characters’ thoughts, emotions, and action.

Instead of “Stickery bushes dotted the landscape,” put the main character into that landscape by saying, “The horse jigged to one side and Kate slid from his back into a bull nettle.” In other words, put the characters into the setting instead of the setting around the characters. Those bull nettle spines give you a chance for characterization, when Kate, who was raised in a saloon and wants desperately to be perceived as a lady, curses like a cowboy, throws her hat into the bush–then has to pull spines from it while her escort, Drew, pulls spines from her arm and elbow.

I love your idea of collecting photos on Pinterest, which I’ve never used. I’ll have to find out how to create a page and import photos! Great idea!

#5 Comment By Kat Cantrell On August 1, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

Hi Linda! Yes, I try to weave in setting as well and I struggled with whether to include that piece in this blog post. It ended up being too long for that! So I appreciate you mentioning it. I like your example of the sticker bushes. 😛 I could totally picture that! Thanks for coming by. Good luck with Pinterest and let me know if you need any help. It’s really fun!

#6 Comment By Jennifer Tanner On August 1, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

Hi Kat,

I spend a lot of time researching settings, whether real or fictional. For one of my stories, I researched average snowfall, native plant species, plant hardiness zones and population demographics. Sounds obsessive and I know I won’t use most of the information, but it helps me write with more authority and I think that comes across on the page.

Great to have you back and thanks for sharing your process with us!

#7 Comment By Kat Cantrell On August 1, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

Hi Jennifer! Thanks. 🙂 And yes, I agree. If you know that stuff, it flows out organically as you’re writing and is so important to the feel of the narrative. Great point!

#8 Comment By Becke Martin Davis On August 1, 2014 @ 10:37 pm

Kat – Great to see you here! Usually I start a story knowing quite a bit about the setting. A couple stories have been problematic, when the setting didn’t cooperate. Even in the early stages of a story, I find it very difficult to change the setting. I seem to have more trouble writing about places I know well than places I’m marginally familiar with. For instance, when I tried to set a story in Cincinnati, I got bogged down trying to stick to the facts. For example, the airport is in Kentucky, not Ohio, and many people cross a pedestrian bridge into Newport, KY to party after attending Cincinnati baseball games. I couldn’t find a good way to explain this in simple sentences. Eventually, I made up a small town in Ohio so I could avoid those complications.

Anyway, I think the setting is hugely important to a story, and is more difficult to get right than I expected it to be.

Thanks for a great post!

#9 Comment By Carrie Spencer On August 1, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

Kat, thanks so much for posting with us today – it’s greatly appreciated! =)


#10 Comment By Connie Terpack On August 4, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

Thank you. I’ve wondered how much could be the writer’s imagination when talking about places, and you’ve answered that question beautifully.
You have a delightful writing style. One day mine might be as good.

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