Novel Settings

Today I thought I’d run with the ball that Nina threw out in her last post and talk about setting. Setting can be many things to a story–a backdrop, something that defines a character, or it can become a character itself. Think, for example, of Harry Potter–Hogwarts is absolutely essential to the story. Setting can also be dangerous–raise your hand if you’ve ever read a book in which the writer spends pages and pages describing the setting. I usually skip those scenes, as they bore me to tears. I tend to think of settings as a backdrop. They are integral to my stories in that I find it hard to imagine the characters anywhere else, but they don’t usually become characters themselves.

Durham Cathedral fall 1985

Durham Cathedral

How writers decide where to set a book is a curious thing as well. I almost always think of a setting first–inspired by something I’ve done, seen, or read–and then the story follows. Equally curious is the fact that some places–beautiful, wondrous places–spark no inspiration at all. I spent some time in Nebraska last year, and in Paris this year, and neither of them, interesting and unique (and different) as they are, gave me any ideas for a story. Not yet, anyway.

My first book, Stirring Up the Viscount, is set in Durham, England. I lived there for a year in college a very long time ago and vividly remember it, and when I sat down to write that book, Durham is where I pictured it.

Tynemouth Priory. Attribution: Chris McKenna (Thryduulf)

 

 

My second book, Secret Promise, is set in Northumberland, in a town I’ve never visited, but when I found a picture of Tynemouth online, I knew the book had to be set there.

Mansion of Sylvester T. Everett on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH, 1885. Attribution: Cornell University Library.

 

 

I am working on two books at the moment. One is the third book in the series which started with Stirring Up the Viscount. It’s set in northern Maine–a rather drastic change from Durham, and a place I’ve never been. A fourth book, completely unrelated to anything, takes place in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1880s, inspired by a talk I heard last year about Cleveland’s Gilded Age. I’ve got ideas in the hopper for books set in Pompeii and London.

If you’re a writer, how do you decide on your settings? If you’re a reader, what is your favorite setting for novels? Where would you love to see a story set? You never know–it might give me an idea. 🙂

 

About Marin McGinnis

About Marin McGinnis Clevelanders are tough, a bit cynical, and just a little crazy, and Marin McGinnis is no exception. When she’s not chasing after big dogs or watching tweens skate around hockey rinks, she is immersing herself in Victorian era romance. She lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband, son, and two standard poodles named Larry and Sneaky Pete. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
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6 Responses to Novel Settings

  1. Barb Heintz says:

    Hi Marin. My settings come based on my story. My first novel was on a horse farm as backdrop, so Kentucky. The second was on the oceans rocky edge, so Northern San Francisco. My current is a house previously owned by an owner of a fleet of whaling ships, so New Bedford, Massachusetts. I guess some writers work a story around a setting, though I haven’t tried that yet. Good post again.

  2. AE Jones says:

    Marin –
    Nice blog! I agree with you 100% that setting can be a character. Just don’t let it be the obnoxious character who wants to be the center of attention! Even though setting is so very importatnt, I skip over pages of description as well in stories if they go on too long…
    Your new stories sound intriguing too!
    AE

    • You are so right, AE; setting can so easily take over a scene and demand attention–it’s important to find the balance between useful description and way too much information. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Lynn Crain says:

    I so agree with you when authors put too much setting in. I think that’s why so many people hated James Michener’s books because there was way too much setting on many of them.

    Still, setting is so important to writing that I think we as tend to forget that portion when actually putting down the words on paper.

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