Setting in a story

I was just on an author’s forum answering a question about choosing a setting for a story. It’s a question I’ve been mulling over for a while so it was fun to pull together my thoughts. I decided to share hem here, well… just because! Maybe it’s my love of the outdoors or travel that makes me highly tuned in to setting. Either way, setting to me is just as important as story or character.

So many stories across genres I read lose a golden opportunity by not capitalizing on making setting a character in itself. Setting can add so much to a story even if it’s done well. My Twin Moon Ranch (paranormal/werewolf) romances all take place in the desert highlands of Arizona, which fits the “dark & dangerous” theme of that series. I actually chose it by accident because I knew the place well (which is also important) but it turned out to have been an excellent choice for enriching the entire series. The desert is beautiful, but dangerous. Alive, yet at times barely surviving, or so it seems. It’s amazing what this can do to evoke emotion in a story. Feedback from fans of my series seems to show they agree!

My “exotic & exciting” travel romances all take place around the Caribbean, in slightly offbeat places (Belize, Panama, Bonaire) where one scene can be sex on the beach and the next has the characters hacking through a jungle (paralleling them hacking through their own emotional baggage, in a way). The stories would lose so much if they were just stuck in a generic resort in the Virgin Islands!

So, I’m very careful in choosing my settings. Another author mentioned she was thinking of setting her story on a beach on the East Coast. If she just left it at that, the setting wouldn’t necessarily jump out at a reader, but once she chose a specific location, it could have a lot of potential. Picture, for example, a storm-swept North Carolina shore where there are tales of ghosts from shipwrecks, or the sweeping beam of a lighthouse periodically illuminates a storyline. Or Cape Cod, where the houses have widow’s walks, making the modern day character feel lonely lonely. See what I mean? The key is to capitalizing on something evocative that’s already there. It’s like picking which direction you orient a new house you’re building: where should the picture window go?

Finally, I use fictional places not too far from known places readers recognize at least in general terms (ie “Arizona desert” jumps out at the average reader a lot more than “somewhere in Oklahoma”) so they can form a picture easily but no one has a specific association with my town. I think it works quite well - and I hope you agree!