A Sense of Setting by Sally Wright
Why is a thing I do, that some readers say they like, so hard for me? Descriptions of landscape and setting, I do those passages over and over before I can get them even close to being right. And what I mean by “right” starts with, “Is it clear? Can it be interpreted any other way? Could a reader really visualize what you’re describing?” – even before I get to “Is it interesting prose?”
Part of my difficulty probably comes from having an overactive visual memory that demands unattainable perfection. For instance: I can still see a tiny arched wooden bridge over a miniscule shivery stream edged with wild watercress, beside a dark forest, in front of a wood-beamed cottage in Connecticut I haven’t seen since I was four (and only saw five or six times then) – and I rewrote that description more times than I’ll admit, even though it’s nothing special now.
And when settings hand you your stories, you can’t just blow by. Several Ben Reese mysteries popped into my head because of a particular place – in Scotland, England, Tuscany, Georgia and the Carolinas, Ben’s small-town Ohio home – and I’ve spent countless days revising and polishing and choosing details to try to describe them well.
Breeding Ground, the first Jo Grant mystery, got into my blood years ago when I spent time in Lexington, Kentucky researching a Ben book. I stayed in beautiful old farmhouse B&Bs, surrounded by pastureland and fast running creeks, and as I grilled the owners about the houses’ history, and local characters as well, it made me want to write a new series immersed in that lush green world where Thoroughbreds graze the hills.
If I’m working at a real place, I take a ridiculous number of photographs. I use travel books, novels, reference books and magazines, even biographies and journals, if the scene takes place at an earlier date. Movies too, if they exist. If I wanted to place a book in Kenya, I’d certainly watch “Out Of Africa,” once I’d read the book.
I use maps, real and imagined by me, depending on whether the setting exists, or I’ve altered something real, or made it up entirely. I draw floor plans and elevations and arrange furniture on the plans, because unless I can see it myself in incredible detail I’m not going to describe anything so someone else can picture it.
That’s a big part of why we write – right? To draw people in to our created worlds – in, on so many levels, and to such a degree that they can see and feel and care about what happens to the people they meet.
And when we’re writing, caught up in that world ourselves, it’s one of the great pleasures in life – at least for me (even if I write the blasted description another hundred times).
Sally Wright is the Edgar Allan Poe Award nominated author of six Ben Reese mysteries, as well as Breeding Ground , the first Jo Grant mystery. Sally lives with her husband in rural northwestern Ohio.
“To borrow a beautiful phrase from her own work, Sally Wright’s Breeding Ground is a story that is as small as a wren’s nest and as wide as the world. There’s murder along the way, but Breeding Ground aims at a larger target and hits home remarkably well. It’s a tale of families and the ghosts that haunt them, of heroes and horses, of the age-old battle between those who value honor and those who do not. The prose is gorgeous, and the setting—the stunning horse country of Kentucky—has never been more beautifully rendered. This is a book you will absolutely be glad you’ve read.” — Kent Kreuger
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DEBUT AUTHOR ANGELA RENEE visits us today with a discussion on World Building.
I’m an avid reader. Read just about every genre, but my favorite genres are fantasy and sci-fi with a good dose of romance thrown in there, which explains why my debut novel, You Are Mine, is a sci-fi romance. I love reading the world the author creates and I love creating worlds. But you still must be careful.
I was reading my favorite fantasy novel, Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward, which made me completely change this post. I had planned to write about how fantastic You Are Mine, is… No not really. I’m kidding. I had planned on submitting a post about the excitement and expectations of a debut author.
Back to the book I was re-reading for the umpteenth time. The important part is the lesson I learned about world building. I love the world Eve Forward built just as much as I love the cast of characters and the plot she dropped them into. She made rules and didn’t break them. I know there are those out there who say, “Rules are made to be broken,” but that doesn’t work in fiction. And this is more than just other worldly genres such as fantasy and sci-fi. In mainstream and contemporary genres, authors use artistic license combined with “reality” to set up the world rules. If a rule is broken, there needs to be a legitimate reason and then it’s not actually breaking the rule but giving a broader understanding of the rules.
I’m an experienced reader of forty years and am just tipping into this published author thing, so I am a much better reader than author and whenever my reading buddies and I are discussing books, we rarely bring up the world the novel is built in itself. The only time it comes up is if the author breaks some rule of the world. Hmmm, interesting. Without proper world building, your novel will not be realistic (fiction realistic not real realistic. LOL). World building is under appreciated. As a reader, I love sinking into the author’s fictional world, no matter what the genre. So while this post was supposed to be about my novel, it has turned out to be more of a thank you to the great world builders out there. THANK YOU!
Now I can’t go without saying something about You Are Mine. I hope the world I built in this sci-fi romance meets your expectations. I know the thought of sci-fi romance may be foreign to many of you. Don’t be scared to try something new. Have fun with it.
You Are Mine: In the hundreds of special assignments Erica Morgan has worked, there was nothing that prepared her for waking one morning on an alien spaceship. More surprisingly, her captor and adversary, the leader of this mission, is the one man who could make her want to leave her home planet and embrace a different life.
D’Jarus Commodore doesn’t want a wife, but his planet is slowly dying, and their salvation lies in the people of Earth. As leader of Darien, he chooses to make a sacrifice and be the first to marry a terran. His captive bride, Erica, is like no other being he has ever met. At first sight he knows he must have her, but for obvious reasons—he did kidnap her after all—she resists him every step of the way.
Nancy, thank you for allowing me visit your piece of the cyber world.