Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Setting is More Than Another Character By Karen McCullough

Please welcome Karen McCullough to The Roses of Prose.

A few weeks ago, I was told by a reader that I had “really brought the mountains to life” in my most recent romantic suspense novel, Hunter’s Quest. I felt that was high praise indeed. The mountains in question are the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and I tried hard to work them in as a necessary part of the story. 

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the dictum that setting is another character in a book because that underrates the power that setting has in itself. Setting is more than a character. It’s the backdrop for everything. When done right, it informs all the characters and their behavior, becomes a part of each scene, and adds to the challenges facing the protagonist(s). It’s the world the characters operate in. 

These are the first two paragraphs of Hunter’s Quest

The sudden, sharp crack of a rifle shot, way too close, shattered the peace of a lovely June day. 

Moments before, Kristie Sandford had been driving sedately and musing on camera angles and light as she reveled in the sun-drenched beauty of a back road in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Pink and blue wildflowers grew along the verge, just in front of shrubs in varying shades of green. The scent of honeysuckle drifted in the open window of the car. 

I tried to pick out the details that would draw the reader into the mountain setting – the colorful wildflowers and variety of green shrubs growing nearby. Then the scent of honeysuckle teases at a different sense-smell. But the details do more than just tell the reader what our protagonist is seeing. Blooming plants show that the season is either late spring or summer, and their presence in profusion on the road suggests a rural area. The weather is beautiful. The fact that Kristie notices those facts reinforces that she’s a photographer with an artistic bent. 

And then there’s the detail in the first sentence that changes everything. The “sudden, sharp crack of a rifle shot.” 

Anyone who’s spent much time in the mountains knows that the sound of gunfire isn’t all that unusual there. But Kristie is a city girl and the shot isn’t a distant one. It’s close, so close in fact, that the intended target runs out in front of her car and she nearly hits him. 

There wasn't enough room left to stop. If she swerved sharply enough to miss him, she'd induce a skid that might take her off the road. The agonized squeal of tires on asphalt scraped her nerves raw. Her pulse hammered in her ears,
At the last possible second, he jumped out of the way, diving to the side. 

A skid would be super-dangerous here because these are narrow roads with little leeway. I go with sounds in this case to show her response to the situation. The tires squeal and her pulse hammers in her ears. 

The man in question slides across the gravel until he hits a tree. Kristie stops to check if he’s injured, and here’s where she realizes some of the additional challenges and dangers the setting provides. 

Her stomach clenched tighter when she surveyed the area around him. The tree he'd hit had saved him from a worse fate. A few feet beyond it, the ground dropped off sharply, diving into a ravine some forty feet down. If he'd gone over the edge he would have been seriously injured or killed. She couldn’t even think about what would’ve happened if she’d swerved too much to avoid him. 

And then another two men show up, obviously locals, and obviously not friends to the man Kristie stopped to help. In fact, one of them is holding a rifle… 

This is just the beginning of Kristie and Jason Hunter’s adventures in the mountains, searching for a missing man.  

Aspects of plot and characters are all influenced by the mostly rural mountain setting. But my two protagonists are both city people and have fears that the setting will challenge before the story is resolved. Solving the interlocking mysteries of unexplained fires and a missing person will require they gain some understanding of how small towns, somewhat isolated from urban areas, operate and the effects on their inhabitants. 

Blurb: Kristie Sandford's vacation is interrupted when a man jumps out in front of her car. She avoids hitting him, but when she stops to see if he's hurt, he demands she help him escape from the people chasing him. Kristie has an odd "gift" - she occasionally gets warning messages, and she gets one saying he needs her help or he'll die. Jason Hunter is an NC SBI (North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation) agent working on his own time searching for a friend, an investigative reporter who disappeared while tracking down rumors of corruption in the bureaucracy of a small mountain town. Jason is grateful to Kristie for rescuing him, but dubious when she insists she has to continue helping him. Kristie is attracted to Jason, but the edge of danger she senses in him reminds her too much of the abusive family she escaped as soon as she could. 

Still, the message said he'd die if she didn't help him, and the messages have been right before. 

Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, three grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years. 

Author’s links:


Leah St. James said...

Welcome, Karen, and thanks for the great examples of how setting can mold the story! I love how the action starts right away. It definitely pulled me right in! Wishing you much success with the book!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Karen, welcome to the Roses of Prose. I love a fast beginning, especially if it's a tad jarring or humorous. We have friends who have a cabin near Toxaway Falls in NC. The scene you described reminds me so much of the ride there. It's a white knuckle experience. Best of luck with your newest book.

Diane Burton said...

Welcome, Karen. Wow. What a powerful beginning to a story. What you call setting, those of us who write sci-fi romance (or paranormal) call world-building. Same thing. It's an essential part of the story. It's hard to write descriptions that flow easily without sounding like an info drop. You do it very well. I loved that you included the sense of smell. Too often, writers focus on sight and sound and forget how powerful smell is. Best wishes on your new release.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for reminding us the importance of setting in a story. Unique settings have become part of my brand, so I work hard to make them real for readers. When a reviewer says: "Now I can't wait to go visit ____, I know I've done a good job. But you're right, we have to be subtle, or we come off like travel agents. Good luck with your book!

Jannine Gallant said...

Most of my books have rural settings, and I love it when reviewers comment that they felt like they were there. Your excerpts did that for me. Very compelling opening!

Karen McCullough said...

Thank you all for the warm welcome! I'm happy to be here. And I appreciate your kind comments on my work. From such an accomplished group of authors, this is truly heart-warming for me!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Great beginning and very interesting post. Welcome and thanks for sharing. Best of luck.

Alicia Dean said...

Welcome to Roses of Prose. Enjoyed the post and the excerpt!