Some start with plot. Others start with characters and then create a plot that will generate the most conflict possible. Then there are those of us who start with a setting.
When my mother-in-law first introduced me to Ouray, Colorado, I knew I had to write a story set there. The town was so beautiful and so unlike any place I’d ever been. I wanted to tell people about Ouray. Better yet, I wanted them to experience Ouray. But how do I do that?
Give at least one character a job or hobby that is unique to your setting
In my debut novel, The Doctor’s Family Reunion, my hero is a doctor. He could have been a doctor anywhere. But my heroine…she owned a Jeep tour company. Why? Because Ouray is the Jeeping capital of the world and Jeep tours are big business during the summer months.
In my current release, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, my heroine is a mountain guide and avid ice climber. Okay, she also works in a store—a store that’s a one-stop shop for outdoor
Think about the setting in your manuscript. Are there any jobs or hobbies that are unique to your setting? Put your setting to work for you. I have to be careful here. Don’t want to accidently insert any spoilers.
When I was writing The Doctor’s Family Reunion, I knew that something potentially dangerous was going to happen to a particular character. I researched diseases and ailments until I was blue in the face before I finally decided what was wrong with them. But when I told my husband, he said, “Well, that’s silly. Why not use your setting?” Don’t you hate it when normals start to sound like writers?
But he was so right. I was trying to contrive something that could grow organically out of my setting. Which, in the end, made a much stronger story. Going back to your manuscript, how can your setting wreak havoc with your characters?
Get to know your setting
As I said earlier, I wanted my readers to experience Ouray. To do that, I had to highlight the uniqueness of the town. What makes it special? If it’s a real place, how do locals view things versus how the town’s guests view them? Having a waterfall within walking distance of Main Street is no big deal for people who live in Ouray, but a photo op in front of those same falls is Christmas card worthy for guests. Whether fictional or real, think about what makes your setting special. The added bonus for fictional settings is that you can always create something special.
(Yes, that’s my son behind Cascade Falls)
Explore your setting
Because Ouray is a real place, I had to get to know it not only as the guest that I usually am, but also through the eyes of the people who live in Ouray. In other words, I had to learn what they might do or where they might go. While all the tourists are flocking to Yankee Boy Basin, the locals might head to some little known place like Clear Lake. Had it not been for my friend Brandy who owns a Jeep tour company in Ouray, I wouldn’t even know Clear Lake existed.
Setting can be a powerful tool. With a little thought and planning or research and exploration, it can be more than a setting. Done well, it can be a secondary character. What’s your first step in creating a story? Plot, characters or setting?
If you’d like to win a copy of my latest release, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, be sure to leave a comment.
Rescuing the Texan’s Heart
Cash Coble is desperate for a change.
After working in the family business for ten years, he's stressedout and overworked. When he heads to Colorado to visit his ailing grandfather, he finds his mood lifted by the beautiful woman living next door. After a troubled past, ice climber Taryn Purcell isn't looking for love. Especially not with a charming Texan who's consumed by work. But there's something about Cash that captures her heart. Never one to back down from a challenge, Taryn promises to show Cash how to carve out a happy life—one that includes her.
Mindy Obenhaus lives in Texas with her husband and two of her five children. Her debut novel, The Doctor’s Family Reunion, is a finalist in ACFW’s 2014 Carol Awards and her second book, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, is a September release. When she’s not writing, Mindy enjoys cooking, reading and spending time with her grandkids.