When I asked Neysa what topic she’d like to see me write for this guest post she came back with how I crafted my settings. I thought this was an awesome topic, so I jumped on it.
Before I dig into the how, let me say that I love to hear what stands out to my readers. I find it fascinating what different things folks pick out. Neysa mentioned that she loved how vivid my settings are, and that’s a first for me. Believe it or not, I worry about writing the setting stuff. I can picture it in my head absolutely, but I usually feel like, because I do see it in my head, I skip over describing it because I forget that you’re not in my head too. Or, I go the other direction, and go overboard in my descriptions and my editor has to whittle me down. So I love that someone enjoys my settings!
Okay… so crafting the setting… I’m going to pick two of my settings which were very different in how I went about writing them and tell you about each.
Estes Park, Colorado, U.S.A.
This adorable touristy town in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado is the setting for all of Blue Violet – the first book in the Svatura series – as well as parts of Hyacinth and Crimson Dahlia – the 2ndand 3rd books in the series. The setting was not random. This town is hands down my favorite place on the planet. If I can’t live there, at least my characters can. My grandparents bought a house there in the 70s and I’ve been visiting Estes since I was a child. I blogged about it a few months ago. http://www.abigailowen.com/2013/03/blue-violet-setting-estes-park.html
As far as crafting Estes as the setting for my books, my familiarity with and love of the town is what contributed to the descriptions. So that is my first recommendation for fellow writers. Try to pick locations that you are familiar with. It really helps you describe the scene. If it’s your favorite place ever, even better because your love of it will help color the descriptions and your readers will see it more clearly. Dan Brown is really good at this. You can really picture his locations.
I will admit that I absolutely went overboard in my descriptions of both the town, and the main house (that I modeled off of my grandparents’). My editor probably cut about half the description before I published. So that is tip number two…. Overdescribe using every sense you can and then edit later. Write the most beautiful wording you can find to describe all the senses you’d experience when you are actually in that place – sight, feel, sound, taste, and emotions. Then walk away for a while and come back and start cutting. Keep the essence but reduce so you don’t lose your readers.
Derwentwater, The Lake District, Cumbria, England
This was one of the settings in Crimson Dahlia, and I admit that I have never, ever been to this place. In the book I needed a hide-away spot for Lila and Ramsey. I wanted to pick a somewhat remote setting where they would blend in easily. At the same time I wanted it to be romantic. I also wanted to try a new country and I’d already done US, Canada, and (a little bit) Brazil. I had seen a movie with Renee Zellweger about Beatrix Potter – the author of the Peter Rabbit stories – and it had featured the Lake District. It’s on my list of places I’d really like to visit.
It also has the added bonus of being very easily researchable online. I like to make my settings authentic rather than making up good portions of them. Hard to do with never having visited some locations, and I don’t make enough money with my writing to support expensive research trips. Which brings me to tip #3… research, research, research. Because I can’t travel there to experience first-hand, the internet is my new best friend. I researched the various locations (towns and tourist areas mostly) in the Lake District, then I started looking at other people’s descriptions (blogs, official websites) to get a feel for it. Then I started looking at loads of pictures online to get my own feel. I even researched typical weather, fun things to do, etc. Like I would if I were to visit there for real and not just in my mind. Research everything you can think of and then go back to tip #2.
There are probably tons of different seminars and classes and forums on this topic that would give you a lot more around this topic than I’ve provided today. I’ll probably even try a few out since I’m always trying to improve my writing. But that brings me to my final recommendation… trust your own writing style. Some people are flowery descriptors who can take pages to craft the setting, some barely touch on it. Go with what you prefer. The best thing about being an author is there’s no one “right way” to do it.
I really enjoyed thinking through this aspect of my writing, and hope you enjoyed reading it. Huge thank you to Neysa for hosting me and coming up with such a fun topic.