Friday, March 14, 2008

Where in the World....

On homework patrol, one of the things Apprentice Writer tries to drum into junior apprentice writer #1's consciousness is the importance of setting the scene. It is a rare book (or language arts homework assignment) that doesn't open with some description of the weather/place/country in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence.

"Why?" junior apprentice writer #1 wants to know, meaning 'Better go straight to action instead of boring old rain or fog or sunset or .....'

"Because" says his mother, "giving clues about where the story takes place gives the reader instant feelings and expectations about what will happen, a helpful shortcut if used right." It is doubtful junior apprentice writer #1 is convinced, but she stands by her point.

Story set in India? Tigers and elephants, ancient civilization and monuments, multitudes of colorful people and languages form an instantly intriguing backdrop. Paris? Mention of cafes, art, and romance is expected. Space? There will be talk of currently unavailable technology, alien races, and unisex jumpsuits will figure prominently in fashion regardless of planet.

Wise authors can use setting associations to their advantage. They may set their stories in tried-and-true locations that deliver certain ingredients readers expect to go along with those places, or they can strike out into little know territory, giving jaded readers something new to pique their interest.

Apprentice Writer's work-in-progress Cupid and a Suitcase is set in the alternative travel industry, with arctic, antarctic, desert, jungle, and south sea chapters. With any luck, readers will find at least one type of geography to suit their tastes. Friends and authors Wylie Kinson and Amy Ruttan have set soon-to-be released stories in the Carribean - Law of Averages in Bermuda , and 'Fox's Bride' in Jamaica- a brilliant move considering how countless numbers of readers would love to spend time in such a blissful climate, meaning reader goodwill would be high before the first page was even read. Rowena, blogging at, wonders if there are any Polynesian set-romances out there.

Three of Apprentice Writers favorite books of all are historical suspense stories. Two are set in Egypt and peopled with archaeologists (among others): Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (see: Laughter Reviews -Keeper) and Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase (to be reviewed). Another is the Falco series, set in ancient Rome and its farflung outlying provinces, beginning with The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis (to be reviewed).

One of Apprentice Writer's favorite authors, the late and brilliant Christine Monson, chose fascinating locations for her characters to fascinate each other: revolutionary Hungary, colonial Burma, medieval Spain and the Holy Land during the Crusades. Definitely not ho-hum.

Enquiring minds want to know. What have been favorite settings for Gentle Readers? And what other kinds of settings would Gentle Readers like to see?


Wylie Kinson said...

Hey - thanks for the pimpage :D

As for settings - I LOVE when an author not only sets their book in different or exotic (real) places, but does their homework and weaves facts about the culture/geography so I feel like I've learned a little something -- or it makes me want to visit!

Carrie Lofty said...

unisex jumpsuits will figure prominently in fashion regardless of planet.


And rock on medieval Spain. :)

Amy Ruttan said...

Thank you very much for pimpage.

I never really thought about why I set FB in Jamaica, until today, I wrote the blasted think in November of 2006. When I was cold missing summer.

I love the Caribbean ... so I was longing for it sublimely!! LOL!

As for me ... I want to see more historicals set in India and the Himalayas ... possibly because I finished a couple of books set there and the market isn't grabbing anything outside of Great Britain. Grrr.

M. said...

Wylie - I love exotic also, but my impression from places like 'unusual historicals' is that it can be a hard sell. (why?? why??)

Carrie - I agree - rock on medieval anywhere!

Amy - I like British settings, but I don't get how tightly some publishers/readers cleave to them. Maybe fans of other settings need to be more vocal.

Julia Smith said...

My favorite series of vampire mainstream historicals are the Chelsea Quinn Yarbro books featuring Count Saint Germain. She follows the count through his unending existence, through time periods and countries you don't see very often. Including medieval Spain! Ancient Rome. Byzantium. Imperial China. 15th-century Florence. Post-WWI Germany. It's all good!