Good morning, Seekerville! I was here last fall after ten years of pursuing my fiction-writing dream and offered my advice for surviving when The Journey to Publication Feels Like a Never-ending Story. Well, dreams do come true and I’m super-excited to say that as of yesterday I’m now officially published with Catch of a Lifetime in addition to being under contract for another novel releasing next September.
With that not-so-minor celebration out of the way, let’s move on to today’s topic of settings. When I dreamed up a romance between an assistant football coach and a football-hating athletic trainer in Catch of a Lifetime, I decided to place the story in a fictional university in northern Colorado that competed at the NCAA Division I level. (Yes, it was inspired by the real location in the photo above.)
At first glance, my chosen location brought to mind a number of unique spots for scenes to take place. Characters could interact on the practice field, sidelines, classrooms, parking lots, athletic training facilities, coaches offices, and team meeting rooms. There would also be restaurants around town, apartments, and church services. Because the football team would be traveling for away games, I also had hotels and football stadiums in other states to consider.
Lesson 1: By picking a setting with a variety of potential scene locations, I didn’t need to worry about boredom from action taking place in the same place over and over.
However, my setting was more than a physical place with deep blue skies and majestic mountains to the west. Colorado also meant changing seasons, decreasing hours of daylight, and weather that would get colder and colder with each passing week. A university setting meant I needed to incorporate class schedules, syllabi, exams, homework, and back-breaking backpacks loaded down with textbooks. A football program also had additional routines between meetings, practices, and games. What was life like for a student-athlete there? What other senses could I add to my descriptions? (Imagine for a very brief moment the aroma of a football locker room after a game, and then let’s quickly move on.) Let’s not forget game action scenes either.
Lesson 2: Digging deeper into the setting gave me plenty of realistic details to weave in and make the story come alive for readers. I could easily get inside the everyday lives of my characters and experience the action with them.
I wasn’t done digging. What challenges would the players face balancing their studies and practices? What if one of them needed a tutor? Would there be rules about players dating their assigned tutors or even coaches dating graduate students? What happens when a multitude of testosterone-laden competitors spend hours together every day? Any egos that might get rubbed the wrong way? And what if they lost a game? How would they respond? Would the media or influential boosters be calling for the head coach to get fired? What if a player or coach brought a scandal down around the program? Oh boy, now we’re talking serious conflict potential.
Lesson 3: By exposing the existing tension in the setting and incorporating at least some of the issues into the plot, I could easily add natural conflict to the story and almost turn the setting into a secondary character.
Let’s try a different scenario on for size. Imagine a dinner theater. Hmm. Food of course. Tables with white linen tablecloths. Dim lighting. The clink of silverware and the buzz of conversation. An entertaining show full of music and costumes. Lots of potential to include all of the senses in the descriptions as well as a hint of glamour as Broadway meets small town.
Dig deeper into the routines. Add in waiters and waitresses scrambling around each other in the kitchen and then rushing to backstage dressing rooms for make-up in time for the curtain to go up. Sore feet and back muscles from carrying loaded trays up and down steps to various tables. Kitchen mishaps, messes, and complaints from diners. Exhausting rehearsals for the music, dancing, and acting of a new show while still performing the current show each weekend.
Now the natural conflicts. Increased stress from trying to juggle multiple tasks and then still remember the lines. Nerves over auditions and waiting for cast lists to be posted. Bad reviews or declining revenue. Diva-sized egos seeking the spotlight and hopeful understudies wondering if they’ll ever be needed. Rubbing shoulders with different personalities backstage and perhaps even as housemates. Can anyone say jealousy or perhaps even sabotage from a rival? (Stay tuned next fall to find out what I included.)
Who else has dug deeper to create a setting that was more than a place? Here are a few that jumped immediately to my mind.
- Pepper Basham in The Thorn Bearer – Forget the familiar sinking of the Titanic. Instead of an uneventful trip across the Atlantic, she put the characters on the Lusitania in the middle of World War I. How’s that for conflict when an enemy torpedoes your ship?
- Mary Connealy’s Kincaid Brothers series – That creepy, dark, and dangerous cave definitely became a character in the stories and motivated all sorts of characters to either face or avoid their fears.
- Susan May Warren’s It Had To Be You (book #2 in the Christiansen family series) – The world of professional hockey brings to mind fast skating, reckless behavior, and fights. But if the enforcer needs to stop fighting, how does that affect the rest of his team?
Now it’s your turn. What other stories can you think of where the setting became more than a place and automatically contributed conflict and tension to the story? On the flip side, how could you naturally inject conflict into a story with a more common setting like a small town diner?
As a special thanks to Seekerville for letting me hang out with you today, I’m giving away an autographed copy of Catch of a Lifetime and an e-book version for someone else. I wouldn’t complain one bit if the rest of you bought your own copy here. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1941103944/
And in another shameless plug, I’m also in the middle of a week-long launch party on Facebook full of football, faith, fiction, and great prizes. You can join the fun here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/CatchofaLifetime/ In the meantime, I’ve brought easy tailgating breakfast burritos and fruit cups to sustain our chat about setting-driven conflicts.
He breathes football. She shudders at the very mention of the sport. After a tragedy involving a football player destroyed her family, athletic trainer and graduate student Cassie moves across the country looking for a fresh start, but a change in financial aid lands her in the middle of her worst nightmare. Meanwhile, rookie coach Reed worries his dream career will slip away as injuries plague his players and his star receiver teeters on the brink of ineligibility. As the two work together to salvage the season, sparks fly, and Reed must eventually choose between the game he cherishes and the woman he loves.
Candee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team at football, basketball, baseball, and Special Olympics games. In what little free time remains, she enjoys exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.
You can connect on her website/blog www.CandeeFick.com, on Twitter https://twitter.com/CandeeFick and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Author.Candee.Fick