Friday, April 3, 2015

Setting Your Story - Where in Your World are We?

Barbara White Daille 
Barbara White Daille

 Hello, Seekers!  I’m so happy to be visiting again and am looking forward to a fun day of sharing, learning, and chatting.  Just remember, what I’ll be saying comes from my own experience, and your mileage may vary.

Our topic for the day is setting, so fix your beverage of choice, grab one of the chocolate-chip muffins I’ve brought along, and settle back in your own comfy surroundings for this read.  ;)

As we know, setting can play a very important part in a story.  Getting the details right can be a tricky thing to do, as readers all have their own tastes regarding how much or how little description they want to see in a book.  For example, I tend not to like reading huge chunks of description, including setting.  That means I need to work very hard at remembering to layer setting into my fiction.

For me, the important thing to remember when describing a location in a story is that we want to orient the reader in our fictional world, no matter where that might be—even if it's simply our character’s backyard. 

From my days of being a mystery reader and writer, I learned to lay out the details of setting the way a mystery author would lay out clues.  To weave them into the action and dialogue and introspection of a scene.  In other words, to “hide” them in plain sight. 

When a mystery is solved, we want readers to shake their heads and say, “I should have seen that.”  With setting, we want those readers to feel they’re living in the story, occupying that place with the characters.  We want them to think, “I can see that.”

When weaving setting into a scene, the description—again, for me—must play double- if not triple-duty, including:  orienting the reader, revealing character, and/or furthering the plot. 

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Description can also do so much more.  Sometimes, setting a scene includes descriptions of characters.  For example, reading about females in high-buttoned shoes and dresses with bustles very like puts the reader into historical settings.

I’m going to share a few snippets from some of my own stories, as they’re what I know best. 

In the first of my Flagman’s Folly books, A Rancher’s Pride, the hero has just received the stunning news he’s the daddy of a little girl he doesn’t believe he has fathered.  Here’s his first sight of her:

A beautiful little girl. The daughter he’d always hoped for, the start of the family he’d never had.
He shook his head.  Pipe dreams, for sure.  Ronnie had never told a true story in her life.  This child couldn’t be his.
As he moved another step into the room, she looked up.  Small and blonde, just as his mom had said.  And more.
The girl’s eyes shone in the light from the table lamp beside the couch.  Silver-gray eyes surrounded by dark lashes, a perfect match to his own.
His throat tightened.  He felt frozen in place. 
She gave him a shy smile.
He’d seen that half-twisted grin in plenty of his own childhood pictures.  Not impossible after all.  The child was his.

In the clip above, I wanted to give the reader a first glimpse of Becky through Sam’s own initial impression.  And of course, I wanted Becky’s description to further the plot.
What the reader (and Sam!) learns in the remaining few paragraphs of the scene is that Becky is deaf. 
This clip comes from the scene that follows:

Looking out across the yard, he said, “Laying in fence, breaking a horse, rounding up cattle.  Jack, those jobs, you know I can handle with my eyes closed.”
The foreman nodded.
“But this...”   How could he take care of a deaf four-year-old daughter he hadn’t, till yesterday, even known existed?
Raising his gaze, he looked as far as he could see, focusing on the higher pastures and, above them, the ranks of pinon and pine.  Viewing the extent of his ranch usually gave him pleasure, but right now, even that sight couldn’t take him from his troubles.

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Above, we see Sam in familiar surroundings, viewing a setting he himself states usually gives him pleasure.  Not too obviously, I hope, the clip also hints he would normally take strength from his land, as well, but is now too shaken by all the news about Becky.
This is part of the same scene:

Late afternoon sunbeams slanted through the cedar trees edging the yard.  Becky ran from a patch of darkness into light and back again, playing her private, silent game.  As they watched, she stumbled.  Sam slapped his hand flat against the wooden barn door.  If she hurt herself, how would he comfort her?
Geez.  Talk about overreacting.
Or was it? 
Could he ever keep Becky safe?

This snippet also hints at plot and Sam’s character.  Also, through light and shadow, I hope to show and (excuse the pun) foreshadow that Becky inhabits two worlds, hearing and deaf.

In The Cowboy’s Little Surprise, Cole returns to Cowboy Creek after years away and discovers the local hotel has been through a few changes.  This is actually a more descriptive passage than I normally write, but I’m attempting to give the reader something to “see” through a contrast and to build tension into the ending of a scene:

Jed beamed.  “We try to keep the place up.”

“You’ve done a good job of it.”

Years of polishing had buffed the hotel’s registration desk to a high sheen. The brass foot rail encircling it gleamed. Even the knotty-pine walls and flooring of the reception area gave off a soft glow, as if the candles in the wrought-iron holders on the wall had been set to flame.

In the sitting room off to one side of the entry, the same heavy, low-slung couches and chairs sported the same handmade afghans, and the chime clock on the wall still ticked the seconds away like a slow, steady heartbeat.

Or maybe that was his own heart, thumping so hard he could hear it.

No, the Hitching Post hadn’t changed. Neither had the old man in front of him. But he himself sure had, and the time had come for him to prove it.

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And for the final example, again from The Cowboy’s Little Surprise, when Tina first meets up with Cole after the space of several years, this is what the reader sees:
In one startled, reflexive sweep, she took in almost everything about him. The light brown hair showing beneath the brim of his battered hat. The firm mouth and jaw. Broad shoulders. Narrow hips. The well-worn jeans, silver belt buckle, and scuffed boots.

Using those “clues,” the reader should pick up from his clothing that Cole is a cowboy; from the condition of his hat, jeans, and boots that he’s a hard-working cowboy; and from the silver buckle on his belt that there’s a chance he has spent some time on the rodeo circuit.  Not only does this give the reader a more complete picture of Cole, it ties both characters to the ranch setting.

There are, of course, many ways to layer setting and description into your stories.  I hope this has given you a few new ideas.

Speaking of giving…  ;)  I’m offering an autographed copy of The Texan’s Little Secret to three people who comment on the blog (US mailing addresses only, please).  To enter the drawing, tell us your all-time favorite setting, real or fictional.  One of the villagers here at Seekerville will draw and announce the winners’ names.

And now, Seekers, let’s chat about setting!


Barbara White Daille lives with her husband in the sunny Southwest.  Though they love the warm winters and the lizards in their front yard, they haven’t gotten used to the scorpions in the bathroom.
Barbara’s thrilled to share news about the debut of a brand-new series, The Hitching Post Hotel, about a matchmaking grandpa determined to see his three granddaughters wed.  The series begins in April 2015 with The Cowboy’s Little Surprise, followed by A Rancher of Her Own in July and a third as-yet-untitled book in December.
You can find more info about Barbara and her books at the following locations:

The Cowboy’s Little Surprise – Barbara White Daille – April 2015
A guy like Cole Slater is hard to forget. Tina Sanchez should know—for years since high school she's tried to bury the pain of Cole's cruel betrayal. But it's impossible to ignore the man she sees reflected in her young son's eyes now that Cole is back in her life—and about to meet the child he never knew he had. 
Returning home to New Mexico, Cole is determined to put his playboy reputation to rest. Especially now that he knows there's a little boy looking up to him. And seeing Tina again reignites all the feelings Cole ran from as a teen. Despite his fear that he can't be the man Tina deserves, he's determined to try. For his son's sake—and his own.
Find The Cowboy’s Little Surprise at:


  1. Welcome back, Barbara. I've basically stuck to LI books lately, but you can be sure I'll be looking for your name on any book from now on. I am a farmer, so farm or ranch settings are what I know. However, I love to travel, atleast the armchair variety, so anything goes. Have a great day, and thanks for the coffee and muffins.

  2. Welcome Barbara!

    Okay, we are dating ourselves.

    Where in the World is Carman San Diego??

    Anyone else remember that?

  3. Terrific clips that really WORK hard and get the job done.

    Thanks for this. Very helpful!

  4. Barbara, you know I love your writing. So glad to hear you have a new series. And thanks for the reminders.

    My all-time favorite setting? I have to cheat and say the places I've visited and/or grew up in.

    Blessings, Julie

  5. Hi Barbara, welcome to Seekerville.

    Tina, I remember Where in the World is Carman San Diego.

    I love going to the beach, and I enjoy reading stories set there. If I read a book that has a beach setting, but the author doesn't work the beach into the story, I'm disappointed.

    Thanks for the helpful post. I'll keep your comments in mind as I write.

    Happy Good Friday. It's rainy and stormy in Kentucky which seems fitting for this day.

  6. Now THERE's a title for ya, Scorpions in the Bathroom. Wawzah! ;)

    You've written a timely post for me personally, as I'm revising my Speedbo WIP - and working on this very thing.

    Great ideas and methods here. Thank you!

  7. Hi Barbara, thank you for the great post with examples. I do enjoy a book that has a stand out setting that becomes part of the story line. I just finished a five book series set in Alaska and I felt like I was right there when everything was going on. I also like stories set around cowboys.

    When I read a new author, if they can pull me into their story not only by the characters but with the setting, then that author becomes a favorite and I will buy all their books when I can. It's through their characters and setting that I really come to know them.

    Thank you again for the great post! I would love to be included in your giveaway.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  8. Hi Barbara
    I really appreciate the examples you presented with how you layer in details without the "info dump" setting description. THANKS!

    I LOVE cowboys. I always picture Colorado for cowboy stories because that's where I grew up (best State in the Union, imho *grin*)

    I'd have to say my favorite book setting comes from my youth reading sci-fi/fantasy. Anne McCaffrey's setting of PERN was a place I wished was real. Favorite settings in the Romance genre are definitely the mountains or ocean (me being a scuba diver).

    Your books sound awesome, btw. I have a soft spot for babies being born without the father knowing. I think because I was adopted and later found out my birth father had searched for me initially but gave up when he couldn't find me. (he was looking for a little boy born in Texas instead of a little girl born in Colorado - major misinformation happened from well meaning friends of my birth mom when birth dad didn't do the "right thing" and marry her)

    thanks for the post. I'll be using your advice as I work on my manuscript.

  9. I LOVE setting and I'm a description junkie. I've been reining myself in over the years. What I try to do is to use the setting to tell something about my character.

  10. Favorite setting....of my own books it's the cave that haunted the story in The Kincaid Brides.

    In someone else's story?

    I'm thinking of so many.

    I've lately been reading Nevada Barr, her female National Park Ranger in each book is in a different National Park and all of those are really cool settings. I just read one set at Dry Tortuga National Park on one of the farthest south Florida Keys, very cool. But I only think of these because they are recent.

  11. A Louis L'Amour book I particularly like is set in a weird lava bed. I think it was called the Malpais. or something like that. Black mountains of rock, dried for a century or a millenium. Some places the rock was just a crust and it would break underfoot. The rock was ragged and sharp and to brush against it, you'd cut yourself.
    the hero found a way into that lava flow and found pastures hidden deep within and built a secret lair and went in there planning to die, but he had to come out and he had to live.

  12. Barbara, thanks for your timely post. I needed to be reminded of those points, again! :-)

    I read another of your post earlier this morning and was pleasantly surprised to come on Seekerville and see your smiling face again just now.

    Would love to win a copy of your book!

  13. Hi Barbara, Always great to see your smiling face.

    Great tips. You always do a great job with your writing.

    My favorite setting? That is tough because I love all my settings. Spain, Lake Tahoe, anywhere in Arizona, the Pacific coast. hmmm. Tough to decide because I really love all of God's creation.

  14. Love your voice, Barbara. Great excerpts. Wonderful post.

    Thanks for sharing your insight on Seekerville today!

    One of my favorite settings was Nelson DeMille's PLUM Island, the place and the book.

    Good Friday blessings to all! Easter is almost here! The dogwoods are almost in bloom, and the sun is shining in GA...well, almost! :)

  15. Just sent my blurb to Book entry.

    This week as I am trying to finish the book I began last year that is so close to the end and then beginning the new book for the Love Inspired contest has been tricky not to mix up the characters in the two books

  16. Good morning, Seekers! Not to repeat myself already, but I'm thrilled to be here to hang out with y'all this weekend. I'll be in and out to chat, with fingers crossed my cranky computer will cooperate. I could write a whole 'nother post on computer and Internet woes! ;)

  17. Marianne – what a way to start off my day! Thanks so much for the compliments. If you check out any of the books, I hope you love my cowboys and ranchers. I'm kinda partial to them all. ;)

    I’m also an armchair traveler, so I love that books can take us anywhere we want to go.

  18. Awesome post. Love the examples and the whole notion of sprinkling setting 'clues' through out a scene. Your examples illustrate how effective that is. Talk about packing a lot of information while keeping the story moving right along. Love this! Oh -- don't enter me in the draw 'cause I'm from Canada. :-)

  19. Tina – my title probably predates Carmen with the phrase “where in the world…” My grandma use to use that. Lol But they say clichés happen for a reason. ;)

    I’m glad you like the clips. I always add a disclaimer about using my own stories, but after all, they’re the ones I know best. And when analyzing examples in a post like this, it's important to know the author’s intention!

  20. Hi, Julie – thanks so much, and you’re very welcome.

    It’s wonderful that you have so many favorite settings.

    The places we live in and visit do make huge impacts on our lives and memories. A bonus is they help us visualize when we’re reading about similar settings.

  21. Hi, Jackie – I’m sorry to hear about your rain and hope it clears up for the weekend. The weather’s been a bit crazy lately, hasn’t it?

    As for working the beach into the setting, that’s why I need to remind myself about my own examples. It’s a fine line (for me) between describing too much and not enough.

    Good luck with incorporating some of our suggestions into your writing!

  22. Hello, May and KC – the good thing is, those scorpions help when I’m writing – I think about them and really feel I’m in the wild, wild West. lol

    Great news on the perfect timing for your manuscript. I hope everything’s helpful to you. Good luck!

  23. Thanks, Rose, and you’re very welcome.

  24. WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE, BARBARA, and what a unique post!!

    First of all, let me just say that your excerpts mesmerized me -- you are my kind of writer, girl!!

    Secondly, I love books where setting is almost like another character. One of the people who ALWAYS does that for me is Laura Frantz, taking her books from just novels to setting sagas that become a second world to you. And I'm reading Lady of Fortune by Kellie Coates Gilbert right now that has the Texas multi-millionaire ranch setting down SO incredibly well, I feel like I'm living in the TV Show Dallas!!

    I love how you do setting with such subtle clues, which tells me you, too, are a master at setting the scene.

    My favorite setting I've ever written is the O'Connor's three-decker house in Southie Boston from 1916-32 because after seven books, it's like home to me, a place I feel comfortable, both in reading and writing. That alone, convinced me just how important setting is to a story.

    GREAT POST, Barbara!


  25. Great thoughts, Cindy. I think that’s what all authors want, to pull readers into the story. And knowingly or not, some authors do put a lot of themselves into a book. Other might rely more on imagination, but the choices they make throughout the book can tell us quite a bit, too.

    It’s interesting to hear what readers get out of the stories. Some might make an author an auto-buy because of the twisty plots or fantastic dialogue. Like you, I’m all about the characters and having a scene drawn well enough (in moderation, in my case) to make me feel I’m there.

    As Marianne and I said above, readers can be armchair travelers. It’s exciting to be able to enjoy a setting – such as those books set in Alaska – that we may never visit in real life. Also, it’s interesting to view it through another person’s/character’s eyes.

  26. Thank you, Barbara for a great post! I love this:

    "When weaving setting into a scene, the description—again, for me—must play double- if not triple-duty, including: orienting the reader, revealing character, and/or furthering the plot."

    Thanks for sharing! So helpful.

  27. Congrats, Wilani, on submitting to Blurb2Book!!!


  28. Taking a break to heat up the teakettle and put more muffins in the oven. ;)

    Will be back in a bit!

  29. Wilani: Go you!
    Will be rooting on all villagers who entered Blurb2Book. It'll be exciting.

  30. Great post, Barbara. Timely for me. too, because setting is important to the book I've been writing. It is about a tornado that takes place in my own area of Nebraska, so is a place I know well. There are a lot of opportunities for me to layer setting and I know I haven't done a good enough job of it yet. It will give me something to work on.

    I live in Nebraska right where the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails all follow, so I always enjoy reading historical books set in this location. But I love the ocean, so books set on a beach are a fun escape for me.

    Please enter me in the drawing.

  31. Hi, Deb – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe you’ve hit part of what makes readers love the stories they do – the emotional connection, whether that’s based on their own history or on their dreams, desires and sometimes fears.

    I also think we/readers gravitate toward different story lines because they help give us answers – or at least possibilities to consider – to questions we may have. That doesn’t mean we’re experiencing the same situations; we just like to empathize and learn from others who are.

    For the record, though, let me just state I’m not the mom of any secret babies. ;)

    I do like cowboys, Colorado or otherwise!

    It sounds like we’re on the same wave-length, or maybe I should say same place on the spectrum, when it comes to description.

    Good luck with the manuscript!

  32. Kaybee – I could sometimes go in the other direction and encourage myself to expand. ;)

    Your suggestion to use setting to tell something about your character…THAT’s what it’s all about! Readers prefer to get info in different ways, and authors have different tools for relaying that info.

    The important thing with setting(Imho) is that it serves a purpose. It does some work to get the message across.

  33. Hi, Mary! That’s another reason real and armchair travelers like to roam – to see places they *could* never see in real life.

    Unusual settings can sometimes almost steal the show.

    I love your recap of the L’Amour book. Just the brief description of the story shows how setting can enrich a plot, add to character, provide conflict, and illustrate theme. Excellent examples – thanks for sharing!

  34. Hi, Mary (Mary Hicks) – you’re very welcome!

    Good to see you here, too! I’m out of my writing cave off and on today. ;)

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Reminders are always wonderful, aren’t they? And I’ll never stop being a student. Even writing posts like this one helps me sharpen my tools.

    Thanks for commenting.

  35. Sandra – it’s always great to see you, too.

    Thanks for your kind words about the tips.

    I’ll admit, I’d have a hard time picking a favorite setting from my own books, too.

    We really do have so many beautiful places to choose from in the world, don’t we?

  36. Hi, Debby – thanks for the compliments. I’m honored.

    Thanks also for sharing your setting. Sounds like a great place to visit.

    My fingers are crossed that the sun comes out in your neighborhood. Either way, have a wonderful Easter weekend!

  37. Barbara, what great examples. Thank you.

    Making notes! :)

  38. Hi Barbara!
    Great examples. You make it look easy, and I know it isn't! My fav settings are small town. Maybe because growing up, I lived in a big town, lol. Grass is always greener...

    Congrats on the new series.

  39. Wilani – best of luck with your entry and finishing the book.

  40. Hi, Kav – I appreciate the thought about packing in info. That’s always my goal, and I try to make sure to show the details that matter. ;)

    Glad you found the post helpful.

    Thanks for commenting!

  41. Hi, Julie – I’m so happy to be back here, and it’s great to see you again, too!

    Thanks for the kind words and for sharing the examples. Making you feel like you’re living in a TV show just proves what a good job the author has done.

    And feeling at home is so important. With seven books in your series, you must have been able just to kick back and relax for a visit. (Just kidding, everybody – we all know writing is hard work.)

    With Flagman’s Folly, the stories were not originally conceived together, but I grew to love the town more with each book.

    With three books coming out in the new series this year, I worked – and am still working on – the different stages of them at one time. Total immersion in Cowboy Creek, and I’m loving this, too! :)

  42. Missy – thank you so much. I’m glad you’re finding the post helpful and that others say they are, too.

    There’s a lot to this business of writing, isn’t there? I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.

  43. Sandy S – that’s just what I mean about writing in our character’s backyard!

    Sometimes we feel our own settings are too mundane to write about. But an author who knows her location well or is a good researcher can make almost any setting come alive by layering/weaving to add the important details into a story.

    Good luck with the work in progress.

  44. Pam – you’re welcome!

    Glad you’re finding some things of interest in the post. :) 

  45. Hi, Lyndee – thanks for the good wishes on the series. I just love it, so I hope readers will enjoy it, too.

    As for making it look easy, I’ll need to hold onto that compliment for those days when I’m sweating over every word. Lol

    You’re right about the grass always being greener. But you know, isn’t that why some of us read? We want those other experiences, and luckily, through stories, we can get them.

    Thanks for dropping in.

  46. Hi Barbara. The heroine in my current wip is named Barbara :) It's a time travel western.

    Very timely post for me as well. I loved the examples. I'm going to triple check my clues during this next editing.

  47. Hi, Barbara! Thanks for being our guest today!

    Sorry to be so late checking in, but I've been having a marvelous day just hanging out with our daughter and her family, who just returned from the mission field! They're all still VERY jet-lagged, but we still got in some Easter egg dying and a trip to the mall for some last-minute Easter outfits.

    Now to rest up before Good Friday worship tonight! Easter blessings, everyone!

  48. Hi, Jamie – that sounds like a great name for your heroine. ;)

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    Good luck searching for all those clues!

  49. Myra – you’re very welcome.

    Sounds like an exhausting but fun day!

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful weekend and they’re able to catch up on sleep.

  50. Barbara, thank you for your timely post. I love the different examples you have given. They really did giver so much body to the setting. I could see it all!

    One of my favorite settings would have to be Susan May Warren's Deep Haven. I love small towns.

    Wishing you the best on your new series. It sounds wonderful!

  51. Thank you for your insightful comments about setting. Have you ever written a book in first person? How does one describe setting in a natural way in first person? A person's description can happen when one meets a new person and first person character makes judgment on appearances. An unusual setting can be described. But the everyday is tough - Describing first person character without resorting to mirror, some things are tough. Any ideas?

  52. My all-time favorite setting would be the cabin/mountain setting. Beautiful mountains, flowing stream, horses and a cabin with a warm wood fire. The Winter is just as beautiful as the warm seasons! Toss me in the drawings please :)
    As a reader you helped me see how settings do make a book more interesting!

  53. Good morning, Seekers - I'm back!

    Thanks for the fun day yesterday - lots of great input and chat.

    I'll still be around, so keep those comments coming. ;)

    Off to respond to some new ones now.

  54. Hi, Kelly – and thanks for being the first commenter of day 2. ;)

    You’re very welcome for the post, and I’m glad the descriptions worked for you.

    Small-town stories are some of my favorites, too. It’s amazing how much you can draw from the setting, and even in a small town, you’ll find all sorts of characters.

    Thanks for your compliment about my news series – much appreciated!

  55. Hi, Heather – great questions! Thanks for throwing them out here.

    Yes, I have written in first person and have some suggestions.

    Use comparison.

    Tie the setting in to the character’s emotions, such as in the clip above where Cole lets the reader know his feelings by comparing his heartbeat to the clock ticking. (Hopefully that’s an effective example!) That’s also a way to describe character - yes, that’s an internal description, but it’s something that happens frequently in first person.

    That was a more static clip above, as Cole was surveying the room. Also…

    Make the description part of the action.

    Here’s another example from The Cowboy’s Little Surprise (and this also ties in to emotion). To avoid any spoilers, I’ll just say that Tina is especially close to her grandmother and the hotel kitchen has always played a big role in her life.

    After watching her abuela work in this kitchen for so many years, Tina could follow every movement with her eyes closed.

    White shreds flew into the stone bowl Abuela liked because it was large enough to hold all the shredded potatoes, covered with water to keep them overnight. In the morning, she would use her old wooden tortilla press to squeeze the potatoes dry.

    Between her need to guard herself against Cole and her desire to be with him, Tina felt a bit pressed herself.

    And since you mentioned the mirror trick to show a viewpoint character’s description, I’ll just toss this in:

    One way to avoid the mirror is to let the reader see the character through another character’s eyes - as you mentioned above - but go beyond that first-meet reaction. This works especially well if the secondary character is a friend/relative of the first-person character.

    The secondary character can say something like, “If I had blonde hair like yours, I wouldn’t have to spend a fortune dying mine.” Or “Oh, you’re so quiet/smart/thin compared to me that…” Or “Mrs. Smith (their third-grade teacher) was right when she said you yould always be the tallest girl in a group/you were so tall, you should go out for basketball… Or “If you ever wore anything besides jeans and a T-shirt, I wouldn’t recognize you.”

    Those dialogue examples were off the top of my head – and I haven’t had my morning tea yet. ;)

    But I hope this helps.

  56. Deanna – a beautiful setting and perfect for romances novels, too, plus a fun one to work with when describing the different seasons.

    Thanks for the comment - I’m glad the post gave you a few insights!

  57. Wow all time favorite setting that is hard
    I like beach settings. I like friends become lover stories and I love secret baby stories.

  58. Beth – we’re three for three on liking all those choices! :)