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Monday, November 11, 2019

Speaking of Setting

By Shari Randall

I’ve just returned from Bouchercon, the World Mystery Conference in Dallas, Texas. While there I danced the Cotton Eyed Joe on the same floor as Sandra Brown, saw James Patterson, enjoyed catching up with old friends, had tea presided over by Princess Diana’s chef, and sat on a panel called The Perfect Setting. 

This is the second time I’ve been on a panel discussing setting. Conference planners putting me on a setting panel makes perfect sense to me. The New England setting of my Lobster Shack mystery series is specific. Say “New England” and we all picture Angela Lansbury riding a bike along the waterfront of Cabot Cove. We can see weathered buildings hung with colorful buoys, white churches with tall columns framed by oaks and maples ablaze with orange and garnet leaves. We can hear the ocean, seabirds, and laconic locals. 

I always learn so much from panels and this one was no different. Our moderator, SJ Rozan, provided new insight by talking about the emotional setting of a book, the way the characters react to and interact with the physical location of a story. She pointed out that a setting has not just a physical dimension but also an emotional one. Think of visiting an ice cream parlor. Most of us have good memories of sharing this simple treat with parents or grandparents. This nostalgia is evoked by the setting.

Another thing I learned is that I envy authors who have maps and floor plans in their books. How I delight in seeing an artist’s vision of the setting of a book: Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings, Nether Monkslip in G. M. Malliet’s Max Tudor series, the Art Deco floor plan for one of the stately homes in Agatha Christie’s novels. When I was ten years old, I pondered for hours the floor plan of the train in Murder on the Orient Express.

One of my dreams is having a map in one of my books.

What settings do you enjoy in the books you read? 

8 comments:

Annette said...

I love books with vivid settings. They take me to places I've never been to or, as is the case with Anne and Tony Hillerman's series, back to real places I've visited and miss.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I love maps in books. Currently re-reading Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police series set in the Dordogne. Landscape, historic buildings, ancient cave paintings, and FOOD: truffles and cheeses and wine.

KM Rockwood said...

Setting can be a major character in books. Some authors can evoke a vivid setting with just a few details.

Kait said...

I love maps, being able to follow along with the characters as they encounter significant places in the book, is a huge help. But then, in real life I love maps, too. Settings are significant. MM Kaye has forever influenced my idea of India.

carla said...

I'm always intrigued by the emotional dimension to setting--communicating not just where the character is, but what that means to them. How they feel there.

Warren Bull said...

It is always fun to read books set in places I have been so I can think "I've been there."

Shari Randall said...

Hi Annette, I know what you mean about the Hillermans. My fascination with their area was definitely piqued by their books.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Margaret,
That's another one for my TBR pile!

Hi KM, I wish I could do that!

Hi Kait, Oh, I haven't read those books in ages. We really can travel with books, right? Good writers bring us there.

Hi Carla, This was a new way to approach setting for me. That's why I love conferences and other get togethers with authors. It was good to hear SJ put into words something that I had a very fuzzy understanding about. But when she explained emotional setting, it was a real lightbulb moment.

Hi Warren, so true. There are so many places I'll never get to except in the pages of a book.