Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Guest blogger ~ Lena Nelson Dooley

Lena Nelson Dooley is a multi-published, award-winning author who lives in Texas. She's had five book releases this year. You can check out her books on her website.

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, she has been a speaker on both the regional and national level. She’s also president of the local chapter—DFW Ready Writers. In 2006, she received the prestigious Mentor of the Year Award at their national conference. She also teaches writing seminars and speaks at writers’ groups and conferences in two states. Besides speaking for writing events, she has spoken for women’s groups and women’s retreats both in the US and internationally. Mrs. Dooley and her husband James will celebrate their 45th anniversary in 2009. They live in Hurst, Texas, and are involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Settings – Beyond Talking Heads, Bare Stage

I host a critique group in my home and have for over 20 years. You’d be surprised to see how many people bring a very good story, filled with emotion and conflict, but completely bare of setting. That’s what I call “talking heads, bare stage.”

What is setting? It’s the description of the place surrounding characters. Many elements make up setting.

Time is part of the setting. In a contemporary novel, the time is present day, and in a historical novel, it denotes the time period. In the book, it could be winter, summer, autumn, or spring, or the book could span all the seasons. Each of these elements adds to the fabric of the story. And both the time period that is chosen and the season the story starts in should enhance the story.

Place should be revealed early in each scene. Does the scene take place indoors or out? If inside, what kind of building, with what kind of furnishings? If outside, is it rural or urban? There are a lot of varying settings that paint your book. Remember that all the details of the setting that you reveal should come through the POV character and have an impact on what is happening to that character.

Another important element is the weather. And weather can add to the tone of the book. We all know that stormy weather increases the darkness of a brooding mystery or gothic novel. Sunshine can add to the feeling of well-being. A snowstorm can isolate the characters and force them to interact on levels they might not otherwise. Use the weather as a tool to move the story along. Even a bad sandstorm, like I’ve added to my next book, can be both a stumbling block and ease tensions between characters because it reveals other depths of the character.

Some authors use the setting almost as another character in the book. One that comes to mind immediately is my friend Colleen Coble. Study her work to see how she uses these elements.

Why do we need setting? It anchors the reader in a time and place. Setting enhances the story whether a dark mystery, a tender love story, a family tragedy, or a myriad of other scenarios.

How should you use setting? When I first started writing, I dumped large sections of description of setting into one place. Tracie Peterson, my editor at the time, told me that she didn’t want a laundry list description of the setting. Her words really revealed to me what I was doing. Thank you, Tracie.

Don’t overload the reader with unnecessary information. It’s best to include setting in snippets woven throughout the story. And as you reveal the snippets from the viewpoint of the POV character, how that person responds to the particular part of the setting will add to the overall feel of the story.

Setting should always be tied to the POV character’s perceptions. And that character will be affected by what is going on emotionally in his or her life. Depicting these emotions in a graphic way draws the readers deeper into the story and keeps them turning pages. Maybe seeing the hand-crocheted, lace tablecloth on the table brings back memories of a painful time, or maybe it brings back good memories of when the character’s mother was alive.

Another place to include elements of setting is in conversation beats. I hardly ever use a conversation tag (he said, she said). Instead I utilize the beats to describe setting and other characters in the scene as well as depict the emotions of the Point of View character.

If you’re an author, you should read multi-published authors and see how they include setting in their books. I will add this caveat. Many authors who write suspense don’t use as much setting, because it can slow down the pace of certain scenes – those edge-of-your-seat scenes. But they use setting snippets in other places.

NJ: Lena has one of her books, Christmas Love at Lake Tahoe, to give away. Leave a comment so she knows you were here.

Christmas Love at Lake Tahoe

Love Hits the Slopes at Christmastime 

Four young women, fresh out of college, pursue their careers at a new ski lodge at Lake Tahoe's Incline Village during the winter season. 

Bethany Stillman's resolve to focus on her RN career falters when she meets paramedic Cole Beckman. Cole wonders how long it will be before Beth realizes he's to blame for crippling her grandfather. Can a Christmas miracle forge a path to love and forgiveness? 

Social director Scarlett McKaye loves planning things down to the last detail. But what she didn't count on was having to spurn the bold advances of a reckless suitor. How far will daredevil Derrick Greene go to cancel Scarlett's reservations? 

Stephanie St. John is determined to make a go of the time-share program at Snowbird Lodge. But Darrin Hart seems to be undermining her efforts, her confidence, and her reputation. Will misunderstanding be resolved, or will Stephanie succeed in business only to lose at love? 

A wounded-at-the-heart Michaela Christianssen has chosen a male-free existence. But her friends and an eleven-year-old girl have other ideas. Widower Jonas Bradley is content with his life as father and forest ranger, until he finds himself pining for Michaela. What will it take to fell her oppositions to romance? 

Will these four women hear wedding bells chime this Christmas?


Connie Reece said...

Thanks for the interview w/ Lena. I met her a long time ago, way back in the 1980s, when I was a member of the DFW Ready Writers. (It was actually called something else then, and I was a part of the group when they came up with the name Ready Writers.) So very good to see the success Lena has had. I'm now writing fiction, so the advice on creating the setting is helpful.

PatriciaW said...

Setting through the POV character's eyes. This is something I've considered recently. I think a lot of new writers give the setting through their own eyes, intruding on the story.

What's Michaela's career? You've got me wondering.

pat jeanne said...

Thank you, Lena and Ane, for the interview, and for helpful suggestions on how to use setting as character. In my WIP I try to do just that. Love to win a copy of Lena's latest novel.

Anonymous said...

I would love to read Lena's book. Please enter me. Thanks!

Sheila Deeth said...

I'd love to read the book. Nice to meet you here Lena. I like what you have to say about settings - will try to bear it in mind as I write.

Aggie Villanueva said...

Your settings advice is timeless. "Don’t overload the reader with unnecessary information." and "Setting should always be tied to the POV character’s perceptions." Thankx for sharing yourself with us, Lena. Great luck with all you do.

Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D. said...

Loved the comment about the talking heads. Another writer and I were commenting that we had to beef up the settings in our manuscripts because when we did our read-alouds that was what we had! Thank you for sharing. Enjoyed this article.

Nora St. Laurent said...

Great know you better Lena. Really good interview!!

Finding Hope Through Fiction