Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Importance of Setting by Nell DuVall



Please join me in welcoming today's Roses' guest, Nel DuVall.
Setting is an important element of any story. In some novels, setting becomes almost a character influencing the action. Two well-known examples are Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Joyce Carol Oates’ Black Water.
Setting should seem believable to the reader whether a real place or an imagined one. I have been fortunate to live many places including overseas. I’ve traveled extensively both for business and please. Participating in various Earthwatch projects took me to interesting places and allowed me to take in variety of activities from an archaeological digs to environmental surveys. Conferences in foreign countries introduced me to other cultures and places. Vacations also added to these. All have contributed something to the settings used in my novels.
Not all writers have those opportunities, but they can research setting in other ways through the internet, via documentaries, books, photographs, and a variety of media. Writers need to develop a feel for their setting and how it influences and interacts with their characters. Setting provides an important element of texture to writing.
Popular icons are gloomy castles, a haunted Victorian house, a farm on the prairie, a seaport, a big city like Paris, London, San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. Each carries certain connotations or associations for the reader. The writer can use those expectations or chose instead to create new ones, but in the latter case, the storyteller must understand the setting and make changes skillfully and in a believable manner.
My own novels have used both familiar and strange, other worldly settings. My two time travel romances were set in Ohio, but mainly in the past. They took a lot of research and access to old maps and newspapers. I also visited the places as they now exist, including the canal and real railroad line used in Train to Yesterday. In a mystery, Selvage, I lived in the area where the novel takes place. However, the setting for Beyond the Rim Light by Alex Stone (Nell DuVall and Steven Riddle) was the far future and outer space. That one took some knowledge, but a lot of imagination.
My current series, Murder in the Shadows, involves Columbus, Ohio, and eventually Ireland. My newly released novel Murder in Her Dreams is set in Columbus. I have been to the various locations mentioned in the novel so setting posed no problems and did not require extensive research.
Next time you read a novel or write one, look at the setting and see how the author has used it to provide a sense of believability and realism to the novel. Is setting just there or does it influence the characters and the action?
You can find all my books (print and ebook) under Nell DuVall on Amazon, most of them on Barnes and Noble, and other book and ebook retailers. Melange Books has the recent offerings, including Murder in Her Dreams. Check out my website at www.nellduvall.com.
I’m also a reviewer of mysteries on www.gumshoereview.com and on www.sfrevu.com for science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romances under Mel Jacob

13 comments:

Brenda Whiteside said...

Hi Nel/Mel - interesting piece on settings. I've used real places so far but always have to embellish.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I agree completely with your discussion on the importance of setting, and the role it can play in a mystery. I write one series set in India, where I used to live, and I love using the culture and landscape of India to influence the story. I also write a series set in New England, and I get to use the quirkiness of life along the coast in the mystery.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Since I'm not much of a traveler, most of my mystery novels are set in places I know well, namely New Jersey and New York. I agree that setting needs to be authentic and believable with novels and particularly mysteries. As to romances, I'm more creative especially when writing paranormal.

MEL JACOB said...

Yes, Susan. I love your Anita Ray setting It shows physical and cultural aspects so well.

MEL JACOB said...

Many writers of contemoray novels use places they know. However, this can be limiting. Experimenting with others is an intereting exercise.

sarah corbett morgan said...

Nice post. I am reading a set of short stories right now: Train Shots by Vanessa Blakeslee. I was asked to review it because two of the short stories take place where I live, Costa Rica. One of those stories, told in first person, is impossible for me to tell if it is fiction or memoir, the setting is so clear. It's obvious the woman either did extensive research or has lived here. All this as a way of saying I was very impressed and, yes, setting is essential whether fiction or nonfiction.

Jannine Gallant said...

Settings are huge. Most of my books are set in Northern California because I know the area so well. I try to give my readers an in depth look into the environment that shapes the story. Thanks for a great post!

Marcia James said...

Great blog post, Mel! I especially like books set in Vegas, since a town that crazy and bright can't help but become one of the characters in the story. :-)

Leah St. James said...

Sounds like you have tons of rich memories to draw from, Nell/Mel! I agree that setting is hugely important to the story, almost like another character. I use a mix of familiar and research myself and have been known to get to deeply mired in the research, I forget to actually write. :-)

Alicia Dean said...

Very good post. I agree with you one hundred percent, but I'm not great at writing setting. I am working on improving that, though. Thanks for the reminder!

Margo Hoornstra said...

It's all a balancing act in writing. Setting sometimes takes a back seat with mine. Like Alicia, I appreciate the reminder.

gkadams said...

Thank you for an interesting and informative article. I'm reading nonfiction at the moment, Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson. Setting is huge -- in every sense of the word.

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