Although I’m living in the south again, I’m a long way from my childhood home in Tupelo, Mississippi. One day—in that very rural setting with cotton fields in the background and the ever-present hum of insects, my grandmother said something that made a profound impact on my life.
“If you don’t stop telling stories, the devil will come up through that ground and get you with his pitchfork.”
By stories, my grandmother meant lies. Did I mention she’s very southern?
So what did I do? Being a smart-butt-in-training, I made up a story about Mr. Satan.
You might think a story about the man-down-under would be set in Hell, but in those early days, my stories lacked any kind of setting. Even after I started writing “seriously,” I struggled to find the right mix of time references, scenery, and locale. In my dumb-ble opinion, setting detracted from the story.
Now, I know better, but I have to work harder on setting than any other aspect of my writing. When I created the first draft of Blue Ridge Fear, I knew I wanted the story set in the mountains, but I had no specific locale (and thus no title). I’d been to Linville Gorge and being a writer, I didn’t just see beauty. I sensed the terror a character might feel if she couldn’t hike up the trail. And to appease my grandmother, I must admit my real inspiration came from the huffing and puffing on the two-mile uphill trek required to get back to civilization.
So I had my opening:
The noise hadn’t spooked her—the mountain forest hummed with activity. It was the sudden silence that sucked the air from her lungs. Someone, or something, hovered behind the dense foliage.
Sienna Sanders sat alone at the bottom of Linville Gorge—one hiking boot on, one off, unable to walk. The injury to her ankle negated hours at the gym and more hours in kickboxing class.
Her gaze darted in all directions, but she saw only trees and vertical rock. “Is someone there?”
After the opening, I needed a mountain cabin, a small town, some isolated locations, and a three-legged rooster. Okay, kidding about the rooster, but I signed onto the internet and did some serious research on the area surrounding Linville Gorge. Then, the real fun commenced. My family and I made not one, but three trips to the area.
Based on my research, I set a pivotal scene on North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain. Feeling sure the setting would work, we made a day trip to the area to validate my idea. Once we arrived at the mountain, I knew I’d have to find another spot. Oops. My heroine, Sienna, had a sprained ankle and would never be able to navigate the trails.
Rather than scrap the scenic mountain completely, I incorporated some of the interesting points. How? Sienna’s pesky cousin plans to spend the day at Grandfather Mountain, but to the cousin’s dismay, her new boyfriend feels sorry for Sienna and invites our heroine along.
“Lars, I’d love to have Sienna come along.” Bethany’s tone vibrated as phony as her Prada bag. “I just don’t think she can handle all the walking.”
What a crock.
“We planned to hike to the highest point, remember?” Bethany continued.
Lars scrunched up one side of his face. “I suppose you’re right. Wait.” His sudden smile transformed his face and seemed to push the negative emotion out of the room. “Let’s go to Chimney Rock instead. Sienna can take the elevator while we hike up the steps.”
Naturally, I had to go to Chimney Rock. This time, our trip proved my research accurate—the Chimney was a perfect setting. However, if I had relied on facts without actually visiting the locale, I would never have known an elevator ride really can be emotional.
Closing her eyes, she forced herself to breathe through her nose. She prayed the ride through the one hundred ninety-eight feet of shaft would end soon. Thirty seconds later, the torment ended with a ding.
And who knew setting could actually enhance the plot (for those of you who don’t know me—apply sarcasm here). While my husband and daughter ooh’d and ahh’d at the seventy-five mile views which encompass Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake (The Last of the Mohicans was filmed in the area), I was looking up. About one-hundred feet about the chimney, there’s a ledge called an Opera Box. My novel had another twist:
Her gaze flashed toward the Opera Box, a ledge on the mountain approximately one hundred feet above. Her body stiffened when she spotted a shape beneath the rocky overhang.
“No way,” she whispered, re-tasting the bad coffee she’d gulped down for breakfast.
The silhouette hadn’t really looked like her mystery man from the gorge. She just wanted it to be Carson.
She hobbled to the pay-to-view telescope and fumbled in her pocket for a quarter. She inserted the coin and focused the telescope lens on the ledge. The Opera Box was empty. Naturally.
If possible, I encourage every writer to visit the place where you set a novel. Live the sights and sounds through your character’s eyes. Setting really can be another character.
Thanks so much for allowing me to be a part of your busy day. I look forward to meeting you as we research our next setting.
Author of Blue Ridge Fear, Available November 23rd @ Amazon.com & TheWildRosePress.com