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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.