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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lynette Sowell on Setting - More Than a Stage

Lynette Sowell’s books have taken her to northern California, the 1800s Louisiana bayou, nineteenth century Wyoming, contemporary New York City, and most recently to Tennessee, the setting of her cozy mystery series published by Barbour. The Wiles of Watermelon is her most recent novel. In late summer 2009, she looks forward to taking readers to the Gilded Age of Newport, Rhode Island. You can learn more about Lynette and her books at her website.

Setting: More Than Your Book’s Stage

When you decide to write a book, how do you know where it’ll take place? Is it somewhere you know, or someplace you’ve always wanted to visit? Or are you tired of reading books that could take place anywhere? Maybe the setting doesn’t seem to matter or may seem an afterthought.

We who are newer authors are trying to discover that bigger book inside that begs us to write it, and we want to find our niche somewhere on the bookstore shelves. We need to think carefully about where we set our books. One of the questions editors want answered is where you’ve set your story.

For example, I considered setting a future book in Texas. I shared my idea with an editor. Her response? “Oh, that sounds good. But could you find a setting besides Texas? I’ve seen quite a few Texas proposals lately.”

Like many writers, part of me moaned inwardly, “But I love Texas. Books set in Texas are selling, because I’ve seen plenty of them on the shelves.” Which may be true. But our job as writers is to find something fresh in our setting, even in a setting that’s been used hundreds of times. That special twist will make our book stand out from the crowd.

The tricky part about writing is it’s both art and business. We’re passionate about our book, as we should be. But passion isn’t always enough to sell a book, especially if an editor has half a dozen (or more) manuscripts set in the identical location as our
book. This is the time to think business. How will your proposal compare to the others on that editor’s desk? You can’t really know. But we do want to give our readers an experience with familiar elements, yet one that also contains the unexpected.

For example, my family and I have taken quite a few road trips over the years, from the Rocky Mountains to the Texas Gulf Coast, and over to Tennessee. While traveling, we saw Wal-Mart signs as beacons in unfamiliar surroundings. With Wal-Mart, we pretty much knew what to expect when we walked through the doors. As travelers with children, we liked this a lot.

But we also liked to wander through local flea markets or dusty shops to hunt for treasures that aren’t stamped “made in China.” We stopped for lunch at restaurants with parking lots filled with vehicles of local residents. When we bypassed the golden
arches, we found unique experiences that we didn’t discover anywhere else.

The same applies to our search for the right setting. It’s okay to have familiar elements that editors expect. Remember, though, that editors aren’t looking for the same thing they’ve seen before in each town they’ve passed through. Take time to evaluate your story. Go off that well-worn path and don’t stop at the first place that everyone knows.

Which is why you should investigate the where of your story to find that unique, unexpected element. Searching for that nugget involves research and sifting through available information. If you can, visit your setting. Take pictures. Imagine your character in that place.

Maybe you can’t travel to your setting. Make the Internet your ally. Read local newspapers, visit local on-line forums, and check out the Chamber of Commerce for your particular town. If you’re brave and careful, visit on-line photo sites and search for photos labeled with your setting. If you’re creating a fictitious town, your job may be a little easier—you can combine the flavors of a locale and use that to spice up your book’s setting.

Now that we’re at the end of our time together, let’s resolve to take that passion for our books, and use that energy to discover something unique about our setting. After all, we want to take our readers on an amazing trip they can’t experience anywhere else.

Newlywed Andi Hartley is not at all sure she’s ready to look like an over-ripe melon. . .

In fact, she’s still getting used to being married. But her husband, Ben, wants to start a family right away. Gulp.
Their family plans are put on hold, however, when Andi's kitten runs from the house to their watermelon field and digs up a bone attached to the remains of a thirty-year-old skeleton. Buried secrets come to life. . .and then the colorful owner of Greenburg's best eatery is murdered. As Andi unearths more and more of the suspicious history surrounding the skeleton, she realizes both deaths are related. Is she also about to unearth a murderer?


2 comments:

lynnrush said...

Great post. Thank you.

Ane Mulligan said...

Settings have often drawn me to a book. Making them come alive to the reader is vital. Thanks, Lynette!