Settings on my mind - Jo-Ann Carson

Settings on my mind

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I’ve got settings on my mind.

  • Why do some settings work so well, while others don’t?
  • Do  authors choose their settings, or do the settings choose them?
  • What can I do to make the most of my settings?

The two books I’m currently reading have  evocative settings, created in such vivid detail that I become separated from reality and immersed in their worlds.  They are more than a backdrop to the story, they are a dynamic aspect of it, like a dramatic character with no dialogue.
Louise Penny’s Three Pines
I’m reading The Cruelest Month by three time winner of the Agatha Christie Award,  Louise Penny, set in Three Pines, a small town in Quebec (Canada). She uses the same town in a series of mysteries, and her audience never tires of it. Her settings around the town are sinister and melancholy in turn. They never fail to intrigue. The little town is like a mysterious stranger who welcomes you in to their lair to tell you their dirty little secrets.

“Easter in Three Pines is a time of church services, egg hunts and seances to raise the dead.
A group of friends trudges up to the Old Hadley House, the horror on the hill, to finally rid it of the evil spirits that have so obviously plagued it, and the village, for decades.  But instead of freeing a spirit, they create a new one.  One of their numbers dies of fright.  Or was it murder?  Enter Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team from the Surete du Quebec.  As they peel back the layers of filth and artifice that have covered the haunted old home, they discover the evil isn’t confined there…” (an excerpt from Penny’s website)  

Suzanne Collins’ Panem
The other book I’m reading (well, listening to on my phone) is, Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Her setting is post-apocalyptic, and yet I  relate to it like a duck to water. How does she do it?  Is she using  archetypes that haunt us all? Maybe. Her world, Panem, captures my imagination and I cheer for the heroine to survive in it.

“Yes, victors are our strongest. They’re the ones who survived the arena and slipped the noose of poverty that strangles the rest of us.  They, or should I say we, are the very embodiment of hope where there is no hope. And now twenty-three of us will be killed to show how even that hope was an illusion.” Katniss Everdeen, p. 175-176

James Lee Burke and the Bayou
My favorite author, when it comes to rich settings, is James Lee Burke. His descriptions of the Louisiana Bayou bring me to my knees weeping in humble adoration. I can smell the fecundity of the swamps and feel the evil that lurks in the murky water.
What am I brewing in my settings?

Why am I writing about Amsterdam and Vancouver? Do I think about murder when I visit them? Not exactly, but both cities fascinate me and make me want to spin tales of love and danger.
What about you? Do you have favorite settings? Do your settings choose you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

0 Replies to “Settings on my mind”

  1. Jo-Ann, I’m definitely a setting gal. I fell in love with a house I drive by on a regular basis and it became the central location for my 5th book. I fell in love with Vermont, and my 4th book is set in Woodstock. (My wealthy Texas socialite escapes there after her husband and father are murdered by the gambling syndicate.) I visualize the setting like I’m looking at a stage play or movie, so the characters’ movements have to make sense to me. The weather part of setting can take on the element of character itself. I have a former critique partner who’s book is coming out sometime this year (???), and the suffocating Texas summer heat plays a huge role. Unlike many writers, I don’t always start with the character, but the setting grabs me and I think who lives here? What’s going on in his/her life? The setting leads me to the character and the plot. Thanks for an interesting post.

    1. Marsha
      I can’t wait to read your books. Your settings sound delicious!
      I (very much a beginner) tend to use weather to reflect mood, but I like what you’re saying about the Texas summer heat, that weather can take an active role.
      Thanks for coming by and making me think:)
      Best Wishes

  2. I’m a setting gal, too. INTO THE DARK is set in Vegas, but the south has a cameo as well. My current book is set in the deep south. I tend to gravitate toward the places that fascinate me for my settings, places I may not have visited yet but fully intend to. I also like to write about places with strong sensory settings, like heat. Great post!

    1. Stacy
      I’ve never spent time in the deep south, and yet it intrigues me and I love books set there. And Vegas, ah, such fun and so many ways to spin it. I like the sound of your settings. Thanks for coming by and commenting. I’m looking forward to reading your book.
      Best Wishes

  3. I love reading books set in New Orleans. There’s something wonderfully old, magical and sultry about that city. That image at the top of your post is so spooky, I love it.

    1. Hi Emma
      I love stories set in New Orleans, and some day I want to go visit. It’s so sexy.
      Thanks for coming by and commenting. I wasn’t sure people would want to read about settings, but my stats are saying they do.
      Happy writing

  4. For some reason, settings in New Mexico really intrigue me. I like the colours, the earthiness and the underlying layers of older cultures. And of course, Spain, Peru -places where Spanish can be the first language.
    I like the arches, old windows, the history. I’m excited even thinking about it. So yes, I enjoy reading about settings.
    And if the setting is powerful enough to even appear almost as a ‘character’. Excellent!

    1. Jodie
      I love your image of the layered past in New Mexico settings. I’m going to put it on my wish list of places to visit. Thanks for coming by and commenting.I really appreciate it.
      Best Wishes

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