09/22/18 – Dianne Drake

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Contemporary Settings: In the Here and “How”

As an author whose first love is mystery/suspense, I keep scenery description to a minimum. Thus the imagery I include on the page has to carry a lot of impact. While the locale doesn’t have to be Rio de Janeiro exciting, any setting information must be pertinent to the plot and more than “just a little” interesting.

I don’t typically set contemporary stories in a place I’ve never been. Why? Because when it comes to scenery, I need to “feel” the location before I can write about the place. Sure, I could easily Google any place on Earth. There are millions of pictures, videos, and detailed descriptions; all the information a writer could want. Only you can’t smell a JPEG. Nor can you can’t sense the hustle and bustle of a city by reading a street map. I can get into my character’s head without ever meeting her, but I need to actually plant my feet in the place she lives to portray the setting vividly.

Even when I set  a scene in a place I’ve visited before, I like to return to the scene of the crime. For example, when I decided to have my heroine experience a scary encounter on Chimney Rock in North Carolina, I took a hike—literally. I absorbed the details and incorporated the majestic views into the scene:

She hobbled outside and across the wooden walkway, heading toward the clear-span bridge leading to the chimney. The scent of pine intertwined with pure, fresh air rushed into her lungs and displaced her wooziness. The spectacle of the mountain backlit with bright blue skies almost made her forgot she had to get in the same elevator for her return trip.

There’s more to the story—plot. I spotted a shadowy figure in the Opera Box (a ledge in the side of the mountain) that inspired another scene.  I also discovered a really cool niche—perfect for hiding the body in my next book.

Do I ever use fictional places in my contemporary stories?  Absolutely. In my upcoming Holiday novella, The Christmas Tree Wars, the town of Merryvale does not exist—not to my knowledge anyway. Still, it isn’t really fictional.

I incorporated parts of Concord, MA, Burlington, VT, and a little of three North Carolina towns--Concord, Asheville, and Boone--to create my fictional backdrop.

For my non-contemporary novels, I do make up places. My fantasy novels are set on a different planet. I haven't been there. Honestly. J

Robin Weaver


Linda Lovely said...

I read (and loved) Blue Ridge Fear. The settings are very real and totally integrate into the story. But you also do a nice job with description in your fantasy series, and I THINK I believe you haven't been there.

Diana McCollum said...

It is wonderful when us authors can travel to a place we're using in our books. You can absolutely bring more of the five senses into the story. Love your excerpt.

Ashantay said...

You do an excellent job of incorporating all the senses into your stories! I easily pictured the surroundings,though did not visit Chimney Rock until after reading Blue Ridge Fear. And yes, I think I know which niche you have planned for your next dead has a nice echo for the screams...

Judith Ashley said...

So cool that you've already experienced the setting for the next book! I enjoy reading stories set in places I've never been, especially when I know the author has done her research - or in your case has actually been there!!

And, interesting cover for "The Secret Language of Leah Sinclair" - dolphins and young people make a compelling combination.

Lori Waters said...

You have inspired me to do this "in person" setting research. Loved this blog!Thanks.