Monday, May 2, 2011

The Personification of Place

Personification is a big, old, mean word. It means simply, giving an inanimate object a personality.

The razor sharp knife gleamed with evil intent.

Well, no, the knife has no emotions, no goal to accomplish evil.

The storm clouds growled of the coming danger.

Nope, coming rain maybe, but any menace beyond weather (like a tornado!) is all projected by whoever is watching the cloud. A storm has no goal except to dump it's load of water.

The hinges on the haunted house screamed like a tormented soul and promised death to all who entered.

Nope. The hinges just need some WD-40, but where's the fun in that?

Cara had a terrific post last week on Setting. The Importance of Setting

And for her Ladies of Summerhill series, the backdrop of The Gilded Age sets the stage for all the characters and determines much of what they do--or rather the proper behavior for the time and place, within those restrictions they have plenty of freedom to be individuals. Anyway, I've tried to not go over that again, though her post is well connected to mine.

Instead, I'll talk about how a setting can become a character in its own right. Have its own goal, motivation and conflict. (well, almost!)

In my May Release Deep Trouble (stay tuned for how to get your name in a drawing for a signed copy) the backdrop is the Grand Canyon.

I started out just thinking that'd be fun.

But the canyon immediately put restrictions on the story I'd write. Like a character will sometimes not behave as the author wishes, the canyon was no easy-going secondary character.

If I wanted to set my book in the Grand Canyon I had to deal with the limited access to the bottom. The lack of water, the treacherous trails, the heat, the cliffs.

The canyon became a dominant factor in every choice I made.

You know how I always say, if you've got a sagging spot in your book, shoot somebody?

Well, the canyon made it EASY to ramp up the tension. I'd just have someone fall over a cliff. It wasn't even a stretch. NOT falling over a cliff is the main occupation of anyone going into the Grand Canyon.

I'll mention here the main books I used for research. I'd like to talk about all of them more but I think that's a blog post all its own.

I ended up using three constantly. Hiking Grand Canyon National Park, a Falcon Guide. True North Series : Your Guide to the Grand Canyon—A Different Perspective, by Tom Vail, Michael Oard, Dennis Bokovoy and John Hergenrather. And finally The Man Who Walked Through Time by Collin Fletcher.

The character of the Grand Canyon gave the book it’s feel, it’s limits, and it provided a fair amount of the action and drama. What I wanted to capture was the staggering beauty and the deadly danger.

The lure and the terror.

I wanted to pit these against each other in the characters' minds and send them on a journey where they are constantly struck with awe at the beauty and forced to fight for their lifes.

So that place is personified as a villain in the story, but also a heroic character in it's majesty. I could have focused on one or the other. Made the Grand Canyon the villain or the hero, I chose to do both.

But in a book like Rebecca, "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderlay again." That house-Manderlay was the menacing presence of the hero's first wife. Any gothic novel worth it's salt as a spooky old house, usually remote. Usually with a murderer roaming the halls.

Another beautifully realized setting as character is that sweet small town with the ugly racial struggles in To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a good example of the good vs evil of a setting. Rocking on the front porch, when the lynch mob shows up.

Never has a setting been so fully realized as the villain than that space ship on 2001 a Space Odyssey. But because the space ship actually talked and took action, it really went beyond personification and became a fully realized character.

Think of Oz. So beautiful and fanciful, so charming--right up until they released the flying monkeys. All we want in the end is to go home, because, there's no place like home.

Today I’m giving away a copy of Deep Trouble. To get your name in the drawing, think for a bit about Setting as a character. In your own book or in a book you’ve read.

Toss some ideas at me and we can talk about how to ramp up your setting to make it come alive. To make it a person. All comments will get thrown into a Stetson for a drawing of a signed copy of Deep Trouble.

And Deep Trouble is a sequel to Cowboy Christmas. The two books stand alone completely, but if you haven't read Cowboy Christmas before it's on super sale on You can round-up a copy (cowboy humor, sorry) for about three bucks. CLICK HERE
And for a second chance to win a copy of Deep Trouble, go over to Casey Herringshaw's blog


Nancy Kimball said...

Hi Mary!
I'm already a winner of Deep Trouble, YAY!, but would like tips on my setting character... the Flavian Amphitheater (known today as the Colosseum). I'm not trying to sound uber-smart, it really wasn't called that until well after my time period, 70 - 96 a.d.

It's such a symbol of all that was Rome, the good, the bad, and the bloody ... and it dominates the HUGE turning point for my protagonist so I'd really like to wed those two together in a strong way. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Carol J. Garvin said...

Setting for me is like the haunting flavour of pure vanilla in custard... it needs to be there, but not dominate the recipe. It's the same reason I season soup with a bit of salt and basil, to fulfill the blending of ingredients. Whether a story is character driven or plot driven, it still has to have a strong sense of setting or else I can't get into it. It feels two-dimensional. Your "lure and the terror" of the Grand Canyon is a great example.

Now I think I need to reheat my mug of coffee and go have another look at the setting of my w.i.p. It could probably do with some strengthening. :)

Melissa said...

I had a blizzard as my character setting, but then my history didn't line up with my blizzard and I had to excise the "character". :(

I think someone made mention somewhere else that historicals that don't make the setting a character are only costume dramas. I have to admit, I guess I like costume dramas, I'm not a big description/setting fan, but love historicals, however, if done well and not in the form of historical tidbit lectures, I do enjoy well done settings. I am endeavoring to do better.

But I learned with the blizzard, that I need to fit the story to the setting instead of the setting to the story, will save me a lot of rewriting the next time!

So without the blizzard, I simply have a fictional town in Wyoming territory near cattle ranches in the 1880s. I found a beautiful diary of a lady in 1910s that described the terrain so exquisitely, I took notes from her to help me with that, even without the blizzard, I've worked harder on my setting in this one than the previous ones.

Camy Tang said...

Great post, Mary! It was fascinating to read about how the setting shaped that particular book of yours!

Ausjenny said...

Hi Mary, I have to say I love the cover. The Canyon reminds me of Waimea Canyon in Kauai Hawaii. Its on a smaller scale but its the same colours and looks stunning too. The cover of this book is stunning.
I am not sure about a character in a book Im reading. or read I think the last book The lawman's Christmas Wish the Treasure chest that had been found but wasn't being opened til just before Christmas became a character as people wanted it and would do anything for it (the bad guys) It gave hope, and brought a town together without even being open just the thought of what was in it created excitement in a small town.
Please enter me.

Keli Gwyn said...

I love bringing my settings to life. I use real towns and do my research so I'm as accurate as I can be. My goal is to give a good sense of place without making my readers yawn.

I'm eager to see how you brought out both the beauty and danger of the Grand Canyon. Knowing you, Mary, it's done with finesse. =)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, this is awesome! So fun, and can you just imagine how bullets ricochet in a canyon????

Fun to the "n"th degree there!

And falling off cliffs? Could life possibly get better???

I submit that it cannot, LOL!

I called for a Panera breakfast this morning. I'm developing a timeline and synopsis so my brain is actually working.

Details, details. :)

But try those Danish! And those breakfast puffs, stuffed with ham and cheese. Oh my stars, they're amazing!

And sausage sandwiches on bagels.

Or cream cheese on a cinnamon crunch bagel.

Dig in! Coffee's all set and creamers are to the left.

Karin said...

Good morning!

I haven't thought much about personifying my setting, but it does have a life of it's own. My contemporary novel takes place at a light house.

For as much as the Grand Canyon is a villan in your novel, the light house is the overly-social, irresponsible teenager in mine. It doesn't care about curfews, has friends over whenever it wants, and never, EVER cleans up after itself.

Thanks for this challenge - I hadn't thought of it before!

Kav said...

Yeehaw!!! Guess who went to my Christian bookstore this weekend to order your book because it takes sooooo looooonnnnngggggg for them to come in up here in Canada. (Like release dates are all of a week later here).

And guess what was already sitting on the shelf?

And guess who squealed with delight and sent the more sedate book browsers stamepeding away? (see, I can throw in some cowboy terminology too.) But I managed to corral a sales clerk to ring up my purchase for me before I high tailed it home with my biblio-round-up! Yeehawwww!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Carol J Garvin, very impression response. I like the way you said that.

Pepper said...

Hey Mary!
Already have Deep Trouble...wait, I'm already in Deep Trouble? Er...
whatever. At any rate, I'm posting my review of all my Deep Trouble on Wednesday. So there!

(btw, love the fact that you mentioned the Blue Ridge Mtns of Tennessee in your books ;-) I happened to be a big fan.

And speaking of the Blue Ridge Mtns, that's a secondary character in my speculative YA because of some of the same reasons you used the Grand Canyon. There are still ots of unexplored places, some treacherous cliffs and valleys, and the beautifuul, mysterious, and dangerous fog. Not to mention all the haints.

Pepper said...

Okay, since I evidently can't type today - here's something else to mention:
You've inspired me to write a real cliffhanger scene. Seriously! 200 foot drop into a raging river off the side of a mountain cliff.

You know, it's amazing how the 'place's personality can change too. In my YA speculative, the Mountains are dangerous - the beautiful dangerous kind (like my hero and heroine), but in my Contemp Romantic comedy - the mountains become a place of humor and serenity.
I hadn't really thought about that before.
All that thinking-energy's made me hungry.
Thanks for the goodies, Ruthy!

KC Frantzen said...

Howdy pard'ners!!!

Looking forward to reading your latest, Mary. May at maythe k9spy dot com.

I'm working on book 2 ideas, starting in the Baltimore airport though. Will need to think about this in light of today's post. Thx!!

PS - the Wounded Warrior Getaway was just outstanding!! We're not quite home yet!

Mary Connealy said...

Good morning everyone!
Hi Nancy.
Wow, The Flavian Amphitheater. That's what the Colosseum in Rome was called.
What a great setting.
I'm picturing the white stones that built the place and the blood that covered it from feeding Christians to lions and the gladiators. Contrast that whitewashed tombs.

Mary Connealy said...

Carol, that's the thing with setting. It is almost always wrong to linger over it, use flowery descriptive LENGHTHY language. So you need to create that world with small, perfectly sketched sentences, then get back to the story.
When you're dealing with the majesty of the canyon it is HARD not to linger.

Mary Connealy said...

Melissa, the diary you found is precious. It's main value is a simple, first person account. One woman's vision of the place.
The book by Collin Fletcher was like that. He walked through the Grand Canyon, south to north, the first person to do it, and it's not easy. In fact he wasn't sure if it was possible to get through it. So his impressions are honest, not laced much with scientific information, just one man, telling what he saw. I underlined a hundred places in that book. It was funny the tidbits he'd mention that I'd underline. so much of the book was about what he was enduring personally, but I was looking for the lay of the land, the challenges, the lack of water.

Mary Connealy said...

Wow Jenny, Hawaii. Hows come I never get to go to Hawaii?
What an experience.

Mary Connealy said...

Karin, I love it that you call a lighthouse an irresponsible teenager. what a great take on it.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Wow. The Grand Canyon! Exciting. I've never been there. Flown over it on the way to California, but never seen it up close!

The first setting that popped to mind was, of course, TARA in Gone With the Wind. That plantation was like a character in itself!

And there's the Titanic - talk about a setting that dictates the plot!

On a more subtle note, I like small town settings, either historical or contemporary. They add such flavor and personality to the story!

I'd love a chance to win your book, Mary!

Have a great day. It's election day up here in Canada. Will we have a new Prime Minister tomorrow? Inquiring minds want to know! (Probably not!)

sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Mary Connealy said...

Kav! You found Deep Trouble?

(why can't I ever type that title without it sounding WRONG)

I'm glad it was in the stores. I've had just a very few sightings reported to me. YAY!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Pepper. I always think of Louis L'Amour's Sacketts when I think of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
So they've got a great cowboy reference for me.

And it's cool how you can personify a place with one mood in one book, then flip that over and make it a totally different character in another book.

Mary Connealy said...

An airport as a characters, well, why not. An airport has all sorts of limits it places on a story.
And you could go dark with threatening terror attackes or cruel TSA agents.
Or you could go light with the security all around and the tearful reunions of people coming home on a place.

Joanne Sher said...

Soooo wanting this book, Mary (LOVED Sharpshooter, by the way. You're a new favorite author!).

The setting of my current WIP is ancient Israel - I think that's a setting that BEGS to be personified. A land of amazing contradictions - milk and honey, war and idolatry. SO many things to do with it (not that I have yet, of course - but you got me thinking. Mission accomplished, I think!).

Enter me please :) joanne(at)joannesher(dot)com

Erica Vetsch said...

I spotted Deep Trouble (The book, not the author...) in my local bookstore. :)

Can't wait to see you next week, get my own copy, and get it signed!

Cara Lynn James said...

In my Ladies of Summerhill series, the ocean/shoreline dominates the setting, at least in my mind. And the houses and society makes it like a costume drama.

In the book i'm writing now set in the Adirondacks, I think the mountains dominate more than the lake where the camp is located. It's nothing like the western mountains. Even though the Adirondacks resemble the Blue Ridge or Smokies, the people who lived there were completed different.

Great post, Mary!

splashesofjoy said...

Would love to win a copy of this great book

Tina Radcliffe said...

hahahaha..glad you clarified that Erica!!

"I spotted Deep Trouble (The book, not the author...) in my local bookstore. :)"

It's so easy to confuse them, but Mary is the one with the maniacal laugh.

Kirsten Arnold said...


Loved this post on setting! My current wip is set in Sheridan, WY and the surrounding Big Horn Mountains. At first the area is a haven or protector for the heroine then switches for a time becomes almost a accomplice to the bad guy in keeping her secluded. Then serves to assist her in her escape and rescue. So I guess you could say the setting has multiple personalities.


Myra Johnson said...

Started reading Deep Trouble last night! And what a whiz-bang beginning--already the heroine is about to fall off a cliff! Mary, your settings add so much to your stories.

The ms. I'm working on right now is a historical set in a city/national park we have visited almost annually for the past 25 years or so. It's been fun to delve into the history of the area and bring it to life as a backdrop for the plot.

Courtney said...

I am a obsessive reader but not in any ways a writer so I don't have much to contribute to the ideas/questions of setting character. However, I love Mary's books and would love a chance to win this! Thank you!


Linnette R Mullin said...

Just ordered Cowboy Christmas and a couple other Connealy books. :D

I'm not sure my settings play a huge role as characters. The hospital plays a negative and positive background character. The Smokies play a positive background character. All my places are more background characters.

Please toss my name in the stetson!

Time for a bite to eat. I might have to do a little digging to find something...

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Mary! I love how well you do your settings! I never think about making it a character. I'm glad you posted about this. I'll have to give it some thought while working on a new proposal.

Mary Connealy said...

Joanne and Nancy, have you read Francine River's Mark of the Lion trilogy. The first two books are set in ancient Rome with some of ancient Israel included, plus Egypt.
So beautifully done, Francine Rivers stories were set in a world she created to perfection.

And Randy Ingermanson set a series in Jerusalem a few years after Jesus' crusifixion. Transgression is book one. He really did a wonderful job or recreating that world.

Jason and Emily said...

Since I write small-town New England romances, it's hard for me when it comes to using my setting as well as I probably could, although with my current WIP, I may be able to use a blizzard to throw some trouble their way. ;)

Anyway, love your books. Please sign me up! Thanks for the opportunity.


Mary Connealy said...

Susan, Tara and the Titanic (btw, Tara and the Titanic would be a great name for a novel!) Those are great examples.
How about the Starship Enterprise. That ship was alive, at least in Captain Kirk's head.
Alaska in Jack London's books.
Mitford in Jan Karon's series.

Mary Connealy said...

We have to talk.
I'll email you.

Mary Connealy said...

Kirsten, I love it. The Big Horn Mountains. What a great setting. I have moved my books away from Texas for the most part just because I love the danger and beauty of the mountains.

Mary Connealy said...

Myra, It's so great to set a book in a place you know well. I love that idea.
We've been going to the same lake in Minneapolis, almost every year for thirty years.
I've toyed with the idea of using that lake as a setting for a book. It doesn't work well for cowboys though. Not a LOT of cowboys in northern Minnesota. But I could have ONE that was just passing through...

Mary Connealy said...

Courtney and Splashesofjoy, your names on in the drawing with everyone else. Good luck. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Linnette!!!! You are such a good girl!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Emily, you may not realize quite how much you use setting. A small New England town brings a reallly vivid image to my mind.
That setting is a frame work for your story that may rise to the level of a character with out you being deliberate about it.
Sometimes I'm afraid, in my effort to be deliberate, I may, instead, be heavy handed.

Cathy Shouse said...

Yesterday, I was re-reading Diane Motts Davidson's first in her Goldy the caterer series: Catering To Nobody.

Colorado is very vivid in those stories. She sprinkles it in very lightly, though. No info dumps for her.

I'm writing about a small town in the Midwest but so many people have written about those. I'm concerned it will be cliche-ish(?)

With the golden wheat that has been harvested in the fields, the ethanol plant puffing out smoke into the sky. Of course, it's in the Bible belt so there's a church on every corner. Plus, any legitimate town has to have it's annual festival.

Is that what you mean, Mary? Setting is something that doesn't come easy to me.

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

I like the hero/villain setting in Petticoat Ranch. The landscape almost killed the hero and heroine in a flash flood to start the story but it was also the reason why the hero fell into the heroine’s hands.

The land was harsh but its very wildness served to offer safety in concealing Sophie’s hideout. The hills also allowed booby-trap rocks to be rolled down upon the bad guys making nature take an active roll in the defense of the family.

I also like the book where the little town was the last stop on the orphan train route. And the hero’s ranch was itself an isolated outpost but refuge at the same time. The very land seemed to ooze oil as if from an open sore offering danger but also hidden untold riches for those with vision. (Very clever indeed.)

And my friend Sidney, building his house on the highest mountain, with the greatest view, offering the most wondrous visions, alas, his dreams were too big…the land would not let him go beyond the possible. The wilderness is a cruel mistress. Like Moses, for his transgressions, he was denied entry into the Promised Land. : (

Actually, setting as a character, is a perfect topic for you because you do it so well.


Vmres (at) swbell (dot) net (this is for Linda).

Vince said...

Hi Nancy:

I’m a big fan of Roman history. I’d love to read your book when it comes out.

The coliseum was built of stone as a reaction to thousands of people dying when wood viewing stands collapsed. To the Romans the coliseum represented safety and Roman building codes.

The Roman Navy had sailors permanently stationed near the coliseum to work the ‘sails’ which provided shade for the spectators who were sitting in the sun. These were huge canvas awnings which took great skill to manipulate. They might seem like eyelids. A realistic novel would mention these awnings. Most people have no idea about these awnings.

The Romans were so proud of the new coliseum, which was begun under Vespasian and finished under his son Titus, 70 AD, that they issued a large bronze coin, the Sestertius, with the Coliseum pictured on the obverse. This is where the Emperor was usually pictured.

The greatest specials ever presented on earth were at the coliseum. They flooded the floor and had complete re-inactions of famous naval battles. While they had gladiator battles they were not proud of the gladiators and in over 1000 years only one small series of coins featured gladiators on them. The educated upper-class people were often against the ‘games’.

I have been to the Coliseum several times and there is no other place on earth like it.

Good luck with your book.


Debra E. Marvin said...

I got "Grand Canyon" immediately from the cover and title before you confirmed my suspicion. I'm really looking forward to what you do with it, Mary!

Setting is a very strong character in my completed MS. In fact, it was the driving force behind the story idea. Thanks for the reminder of its importance as I tweek my final run-through.

Cheri LaClaire said...

Good day, Mary! I think of how the prairie winds drove so many of those pioneer wives mad. Especially on days like today--when it's driving me mad!

Jan Drexler said...

Thanks so much Mary! I hadn't really thought of the setting as a character before.

Tolkein is a great example - the Shire was definitely a character in the story, calling Frodo back home, giving him something to sacrifice for. And Mt. Doom? Always on the horizon, always watching, always threatening...

Gives me something to think about as I write!

Finished Calico Canyon this weekend, then was dumbfounded that the local library doesn't have Gingham Mountain! So I requested it, of course :). Not sure I can wait until they buy and process a copy, though. Amazon is looking better all the time.

And Ruthy, thanks for Panera! Not only is our new town sorely lacking in Mary Connealy books, the closest Panera's is in Denver. I'm going through withdrawal!

Throw my name in the Stetson!

Janet Dean said...

Excellent post, Mary! You do a great job bringing setting to life in your books! Your characters are always pitting themselves against the setting. As a reader, I'm sweating it with them! Love that you show setting as both a villain and a heroic character.

When we visited the Grand Canyon a few summers ago, I was scared silly by the number of people who would go out too far for a photo op. That same trip, we were on a bus touring Zion National Park admiring the beauty of the majestic peaks above us when we were told that a vacationer fell to her death the day before. This beautiful park suddenly seemed a scary place. A place that could and did take lives, the dark side of setting.

I'm awed when writers can create a setting with that same lure and terror using people, a way of life, not just in suspense stories but in small town America. I want to do that!


Debby Giusti said...

Mary, my dil keeps talking about Deep Trouble and how much she loved seeing the Grand Canyon through your prose. She's a fan, as you know. So am I!

Great topic! I created Fort Rickman, a US Army post in South Georgia, for my Military Investigations series, and feel the post and especially the old brick homes are characters in the stories. I was thrilled the art dept used one of the homes on the cover of THE OFFICER'S SECRET, the first book in the series, because the house is so important. Everything revolves around what happened in those quarters, both past and present.

An earlier book, MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA took place in inner city Atlanta. That setting became so real to me and so critical to how the story unfolds.

The North Georgia Mountains was an integral part of SCARED TO DEATH. The twisting roads, the tall pine trees, the small towns nestled in the hills...and then a couple of murders.

Is anyone watching THE KILLING, on Sunday night TV? Great Seattle setting. Lots of rain and dreary skies, which are perfect for a murder investigation.

Debby Giusti said...

Loved the info about the coliseum. I've never heard about the sails or that the floor was flooded at various times. Amazing!

Debby Giusti said...

Speaking of the Grand Canyon! I was amazed people could get so near the edge. Only a small railing kept folks back at one of the photo spots. Oh my gosh! I kept firm hold on my children and ensured they stayed close to mom!

Linnette R Mullin said...

LOL...yes I am! :D I ordered three books. Cowboy Christmas and Lassoed in Texas books 2 and 3. :D Can't wait to get them and wrestle over which one to read first.

Been wanting to for a while. I have more on my wishlist. ;-)

Mary Connealy said...

Cathy, I think you did a great job, just in that comment about capturing a small town.
And ethanol plant would probably be kind of big through, they'd employ a lot of people. At least the one nearest me does, though admittedly it's a huge one.
So where do those employees live? Just be having the ethanol plant you might change the character of your town. Traffic, working men with good jobs means a thriving town.

Mary Connealy said...

Vince, Gingham Mountain is the one with the oil oozing out of the ground.
You know that was true in Texas before anyone knew how to refine oil. It was an icky, unwelcome, smelly substance that oozed out of the ground and fouled the water.
Indians learned how to coat canoes with it very early and it could be burned for light or heat but it was smoky and smelly and no nearly as well liked as wood.

I did a LOT of research into the birth of the oil industry for Gingham Mountain.

Mary Connealy said...

Also Vince, darlin' you've GOT to let Sidney go. He's dead, my friend.

Mary Connealy said...

Debra when you say MS you mean Mississippi? I'm not up on my state abreviations. But the south is so great of a setting.
Contemporary or historical the south just has a flavor that makes a book about twice as fun to read.

Mary Connealy said...

Cheri? Honey? You've noticed the wind hasn't stopped blowing in Nebraska for about a WEEK. Solid, never ending buffeting wind.

I said to my husband just the other day, "One of these days this wind is going to blow my mind away."

He gasped and gave me an alarmed look. I think he'd getting a self-protection order from the judge as we speak.

Mary Connealy said...

One of my favorite books for setting was Nosy in Nebraska because I set it in a small Nebraska town.

It was really fun because I am a small town girl. Honestly I'm NOT a small town girl, I'm a country girl. Going to town is a big deal. And there IS a difference.

But my mom has lived in a town of 1000 people for the last about ten years so I've gotten a much better feel for the dynamics of a small town.

Whenever the town's siren goes off in town, my mom awaits a phone call from her friend, also in her eighties, who has a police scanner. The lady has a list of people she calls to tell them where the ambulance or fire trucks are heading.

The fundamental rule of a small town is:
everybody knows.

If you need help, have a death or illness or accident, have financial problems, storm damage, a new grandchild, are building a new house, good stuff, hard times, people know and come through to help you.

But if you mess up, do something humiliating, get a speeding ticket, they all know that, too.

Good or bad, everybody know.

Mary Connealy said...

Jan, don't you think fantasy almost transends this topic? I can't quite decide. It's absolutely a HUGE character in Tolkien's books but he's doing what we call World Building.
In that his throws out all the rules and creates his own.
It seems bigger than setting as characters, and yet I suppose it's the ULTIMATE setting as character.

Also I'd like to add here that Orlando Bloom as disturbingly hot for an elf.

Mary Connealy said...

Has anyone been to the Grand Canyon and gone out on that Skywalk?

Grand Canyon Skywalk

I'm not sure I could handle that.

Debby Giusti said...

I was there prior to the Skywalk. And I couldn't have done it. Too high for me.

I got altitude sickness at the Grand Canyon, which I never expected. We had wanted to spend the night, but ended up leaving after a number of hours because of the way I felt. Not good.

We did stay in Flagstaff. Such a lovely town.

Lorna said...

Hi Mary. I was simply missing you, so I had to stop over and say hi. Loved your blog. Placing your story in an actual location has both limitations and advantages. I know.

Did I tell you I love your new photo? It's beautiful!

Hugs from across the river.:)

Mary Connealy said...

I'm getting ready to send out another newsletter.
I swear I'm getting ready.
I am. I really mean it this time.

So, in the unlikely event I do get a newsletter sent (I try to send one out with every book!)
I draw one name from my newsletter subscriber list to win a free copy of the book I'm releasing and this month there will be TWO.
Because I've actually got TWO books releasing this month.
Deep Trouble
Montana Marriages Trilogy
Montana Marriages Trilogy is the entire Montana Marriage series in one book.
Montana Rose
The Husband Tree
Wildflower Bride

If you've read those books I don't want to be promoting it because I'd feel guilty if you bought a book you already have.
Montana Marriages Trilogy is just slightly lower than the price of TWO regular books. So if you've missed any of those books, you can get them now.

To sign up for the newsletter go HERE and type in the email address to which you want the newsletter to come.

Mary Connealy said...

HI LORNA! Lorna's got a book releasing right now with mine.
A historical romance, too, called A Great Catch

CatMom said...

Great post, Mary! I'd never thought of the setting as a character (I continue learning SO much from the Seekers!) so now I'm going to dive back into my WIP and make that setting "come alive". ~ And just from reading your post today, I've got a yearning now to visit the Grand Canyon *sigh*. Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo :)

Linnette R Mullin said...

Ok. I think I'm on your email list. I remember the Just For Laughs thing. Has it been that long since you sent out a newsletter?

I'm going to have to make a special Mary file and list all your books with an X next to the ones I've read and so I can remember what I haven't read...

Loves 2 Read said...

Hi all - great giveaway! Mary is one of my fav authors!

Would love to win a copy of Deep Trouble - already have Cowboy Christmas!

As for character or setting - I'm just begginning to get back at attempting my first novel.
but am inspired by several authors lately, and just keep dreaming about the same characters and situations, so if I don;t write it down. . . . not sure if i'll get a full nights sleep until i do! lol

email -

travelingstacey said...

I'm going to keep trying to get a copy of Deep Trouble! : ) We're planning a trip to Arizona this summer and hope to take a day to drive to the Canyon. Reading about it before we go would be great! *wink*
I'm struggling a little with setting in my story. How do you know when you've given it the attention it deserves? The focus of my story is the conflict, tragedy, and love story that is taking place, and the setting is in the background. I describe it (the home of a wealthy family), the events happening there, but I am sensing that there needs to be more. What kind of questions should I ask myself to help me know I'm giving potential readers(hopefully!) enough detail?

Renee Ann said...

Great, thought-provoking post, Mary! I always respond to setting. I can't abide a setting that is too bleak--even in a thriller or murder mystery. I'm learning (I hope) to connect my characters to their setting in a way that enhances the story . . . maybe by showing why the place is meaningful to them or why it makes them uncomfortable. It's fun to have one character think of it one way and the second character view the exact same thing with different thoughts and reactions.

Mary Connealy said...

Linnette, I recommend an excel spread sheet.
Pammy Hillman is the master organizer, she can get anything into order with Excel.

Mary Connealy said...

Catsmom and Travelingstacey
As with everything in writing it's about balance.
Not too much
Not too little.
Use short, perfectly chosen descriptions.
Yeah, like that's not hard!!! :)

Mary Connealy said...

Renee Ann, I have a real problem with intense suspense. Unrelenting tension that runs page after page after page with no relief from it.

I can't really stand to read a book like that or watch a movie like that. I just go check email instead.

I've got to have a lighter moment to keep me in the book. And that's just me. I know people who LOVE that kind of suspense.

Mary Connealy said...

Love 2 Read, put all those ideas down on paper (or on your computer of paper)
It gets them out of your head and saves them for when it becomes 'their' turn to be written.

Pepper said...

So Mary,
Are you saying...
This porridge is too hot.
This porride is too cold.
But this one is just right.

That's the kind of setting - the type of balance?

Sorry - been reading pre-k material most of the afternoon, but I understand it so well. Makes me feel brilliant.

Jackie S. said...

Just a reader so will leave settings up to you great Seeker writers!!! Please toss my name in the Stetson....would love to read your new book. Thanks!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Pepper, brilliantly put.
all of literature can be boiled down to Goldilocks and the Three Bears!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Jackie S. JUST a reader


We LOVE READERS, are you kidding me?
Your name is in the drawing.

Pepper said...

Don't you think that all of life's big answers can be boiled down to children's story-size?

Listen to your parents - don't listen to talking wolves (even the Jacob-kind),
stay on the path,
candy houses are ALWAYS too good to be true, but brick houses are better,
even fairy godmothers give curfews (and limits),

don't take apples from strangers,

short people, especially if the travel in groups of 7, can be helpful (or they're selling something),

For heaven's sake, wear shoes that fit,

fairies are a MUST,

breadcrumbs do NOT last forever (but chocolate might),

Just to name a few ;-)

Debra E. Marvin said...

Oh darn.
Mary I meant MS as manuscript. Otherwise I'm in a NY state of mind...

And dreaming of another trip to Arizona now.

Faye said...

Great post Mary! I haven't really thought of setting as a character more as a problem sometimes. But what you said is so true! It has an effect on the tone of the story and everything!
I'm working on a story in a fictional setting, so it's kinda hard to remember how the map of the land lays even when I draw a map. So I would love advice on how to make the scene come alive more, and not be so flat. Thanks! And please enter me.

crazi.swans at gmail dot com

Walt Mussell said...

When I think of the Grand Canyon as a character, I think of the person that drove their car over the rim of the canyon recently and survived.

Since I deal a lot with Japanese castles, I wonder if I can make the castle a character. I talk about the squeaky floors, but don't go much further than that.


Debby Giusti said...

Walt, did the guy/gal take the plunge by accident or on purpose? A dare? Reality TV?

Julie Lessman said...

Mary!!! I'm late to the party, but it looks like it was grand time without me.

LOVE this post on setting, especially your reference examples -- SOOO true!!

I'm not huge on setting in my books, but only because I'm not huge on research and it takes A TON to get a setting like the Grand Canyon right, I can tell you that. Can't wait to read the book!!


Lorna Faith said...

Loved learning about how you created setting for your book, Mary:) I'll need to remember what you said that setting can become a character in it's own right. I need to learn how to do that better:) Re-working parts of my setting of my WIP. Thanks for the help!

Would love to be entered for a chance to win your new book! I love your books:)

lornafaith at gmail dot com

Walt Mussell said...

Debby, I think the guy was just a fortunate idiot.

Jo said...

Great post, Mary. I would love to read this book and have added it to my list.


Whitney said...

I tried to post this last night, but Blogger wouldn’t let me, despite the fact that I deleted all my cookies, etc., and restarted my computer. So it’s late. : (
Mary, I have been trying to get my hands on one of your books for a long time, but just haven’t been able to “add to cart” or toss it in the buggy (funds, you know… something about bills and groceries), but have held your books in my hands! So maybe one of these days, I’ll win one. ; )
I am very fond of setting. It sets the mood like nothing else can. The haunting highlands of Scotland, the shoreline in Maine, the mountains of… anywhere. I LOVE mountains. Add a castle’s ruins, a Bed and Breakfast, a cowboy… viola!
To me, setting IS a character. Or should be. It doesn’t have to take over the story, but should lend to it. That doesn’t always have to be the case, but every story draws from setting in one way or another, be it from the time era where details are so essential in a historical, or the intentional inclusion of setting to enrich the story.
One of my stories is set in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia in 1908 during a prominent logging period of history. Another is set in England in 1933 at a nobleman’s estate.
Julie, I really enjoyed reading about the pub in A Hope Undaunted when Katie got drunk. That was setting—at least for that scene – and it was vivid. It shouldn’t be surprising that you’re also good at THAT. ; )


Nia for Jesus said...

I love her books!Enter me!

niastrong21 at gmail dot com