Well, you're wrong, my darlings, so grab a cup of coffee, come closer, take a seat and let's talk.
But something I've noticed over years of avid reading, is that if the setting doesn't add depth to the story, or fights the story, you've lost a fairly simple opportunity to deepen your story without gunfire, mental health, family instability or sudden cardiac infarctions.
Now you know I'm not good with terms... I get POV. (point of view) But that's about it. I don't talk beats, GMC, Deep POV, Deep Writing, Deep Six (wait, that might mean racketeer-related death, scrap that one). I don't talk the talk, but I walk the walk because I'm a really good copycat. And how do I use that amazingly handy skill in my work?
Well. I copy smart people, and then pretend I'm one of them. Simple, right?
I'm not even kidding, here's what you do, and it's nothing we haven't discussed before but we've got a lot of new villagers, and these basic tenets of good writing are universal.
Copy good writers.
Study the authors you love, the ones you relate to, and do what they do. Honestly, the more difficult you make this business, the harder it is. KISS rule applies: Keep It Simple, Sweetie
So back to setting. I'm going to show by example here, because I see this as being more fundamental than most of the big-line craft writers let on, whereas I find it crucial to the foundation of a really strong book.
1. Examine your story/series. Get to know it. This might mean writing some of it first (raises hand) while researching ideas/places/thoughts. Feel your characters, envision their character-arc and what they're up against.
In my "The Men of Allegany County" series (Love Inspired Books, Available Here) , I developed Jamison, New York, a small town in a depressed area of the Southern Tier of New York, Northern Appalachia.
Fictional "Jamison" and the real town of Wellsville had fallen on tough times with the collapse of the mining industry and northeast manufacturing. The infrastructure was eroding. Homes were scarred and unpainted. When it's tough to feed the kids, spending hundreds of dollars for paint becomes a non-issue. My first hero was coming back to Jamison to offer payback to the town that loved, sheltered and helped him become the military hero and expert he is today... But for his heroism to stand out, the town's need had to be portrayed strongly. The town's need, threaded throughout the series, helped develop the growing message of hope and joy throughout the books.
2. What's your goal? Family reunited, straight romance, women's fiction, suspense, forgiveness, family secrets unveiled... The goal of the series and/or single story is the moral premise I choose to portray, and The Moral Premise is the only book on craft I've ever used. Honestly, I'd rather practice my craft than read about how to practice my craft, so we all do what works for us. Once I have an idea in my head of the story/stories I want to tell, I hunt for the best place to tell them.
Book One of the Double S Ranch series "Back in the Saddle" comes out in 8 weeks, and I'm thrilled! Early readers have loved the story, editors loved the story and I love the story. In the writing world, darlings, that's a trifecta!
This setting had two goals. The first goal was set by my delightful Waterbrook editor Shannon Marchese who said "Give me cowboys and something to do with a Christmas tree farm..." Did you know there are very few states with both? Who knew??? But when I discovered the achingly broad, lush valley of Central Washington, I knew I found a perfect spot for the haves (the Stafford family, and their multi-million dollar ranch) and the have-nots (practically everyone else in the county, most of whom hate the Staffords for good reason).
I needed a spot where cowboys would thrive (Kittitas County Fair and Labor Day Rodeo with a re-enactment of the Native American fall trek to the valley, you can't get more Western than that, Sugarbeans!) and working folks would have tried to cling to what they could while Sam Stafford took over just about anything and everything.
The second goal was a redeemable town, which reflects all four heroes, Sam Stafford and his sons. Not only had the town suffered economic loss as the political landscape in Washington began to change, they suffered deprivation because one mega-wealthy rancher controlled multiple aspects of their lives. I tiptoed as I invented Gray's Glen, the sweet Western town tucked below the sprawling Stafford empire. It needed to be wounded, not broken, although let me tell you it is mighty hard to mortally wound a cowboy town. And when it suffers a grievous blow, well... it's time for everyone around to cowboy up.
|It is all right to take a two minute breather to just gaze at Colt Stafford and his mount "Yesterday's News"...|
No one will think less of you for it.
3. Immerse your reader. Your reader should feel the setting. Not in verbose terms where you wax poetically for pages as a butterfly flits through fronds of waving grass. THOSE BECOME SKIMMED PAGES and if you have too many of them, you have now created a skimmed book.
Don't do that.
Develop your setting to the point where the reader identifies with the characteristics. In "Kirkwood Lake" I wanted a lakeside setting (based on Chautauqua Lake in Western New York, a gorgeous lake surrounded by rural people, rich summer homes and a huge spectrum of folks in between).
In our area there's been annual controversy between lakeshore dwellers, developers and farmers as demographics change and the economy revives. I wanted a theme of "Life Goes On...", as people pass from one season to another but try to maintain what has been for the coming generations.
|Still one of my top-selling books.... A beautiful story of second chances.|
The father was the town patriarch, a man of many skills who owned the hardware store and could put his hand to most anything. Charlie Campbell is a mainstay, a good man, with a beautiful big family.
And who doesn't love a big family???
The lakeside setting offered me multiple scene venues, boats, campgrounds, farms, lakeshore houses, and a full village nestled at the northern tip with a tough small city at the southern tip. But more than that it offered me current issues of over-development, politicians wanting to line their pockets, diverse population (poverty in the hills, middle class and upper middle class below, and a fairly firm line of demarcation.) and the growing problem of farm distribution, how farms are broken up when the farmer passes away. I had to step back and look at the whole picture, what stories I wanted to tell, and have a place to tell all of them. Not just one or two... but several, and that was part of identifying my goal: To tell a lot of stories.
4. Satisfy the reader.
This is our job. In case you forget that, and decide that editors know nothing and you can write what you darn well please, remember this: Our job is to satisfy the reader, and most editors are pretty good at knowing what a readership likes.
In the brand new "Grace Haven" series I turned the tables. It is also set near a lake, Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes of Central New York, but this is very different from the Kirkwood area.
Grace Haven has never fallen on hard times. Grace Haven is historic and preserved and close-knit, and upscale and filled with tourists spring, fall and summer. It is a go-to spot for destination weddings at a fraction of the Long Island and downstate NY costs, an area filled with vineyards, estates and a large Mennonite community. Grace Haven has been chronically successful, but despite that, people have problems. Life happens. And even without roughed up economics, the human dynamic is the heart of your story. Themes here were appreciation, cooperation, forgiveness, and redemption. Money doesn't buy happiness... even in Grace Haven.
Right now this series is slated to be four books long, but once I have a great setting and a core family, or situation (new business expanding, new tourism, new hotel, new hospital, disaster strikes, storm clean-up, etc) new characters appear, simply begging for their own books! And I am happy to comply.
But without that strong, wrap-around setting that would be much harder to do.
Examine your work. Is your setting elastic enough to be expandable? (Think Deb Clopton, Debbie Macomber, Linda Goodnight, Brenda Minton, Janet Tronstad, authors who've written multiple books in one setting, linking the books in multiple ways and creating their own go-to spot for readers).
Come on inside, the coffee is on, it's hot and fresh and we can chat. Ask questions. I'll either have the answers or sure as shootin', I'll make one up!
And I do believe I've got some copies of my newest 4 Star Love Inspired novel up for grabs... So give a shout in the comments and like Julie said yesterday, if you've read "An Unexpected Groom" and liked it or loved it, I will treasure your reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Christianbook.com... if you've a mind to, that is!
Ruthy loves to chat with and possibly annoy people on facebook, so come on over and be her friend..... visit her website at ruthloganherne.com or e-mail Ruthy at firstname.lastname@example.org
She loves to hear from readers and writers alike, and she probably won't make fun of you until she knows you for at least a little while. Like an hour.
More or less.