Saturday, November 30, 2013

Let Setting Become a Character

Elaine Calloway
This week the Mess welcomes Elaine Calloway.  Elaine grew up in New Orleans with a love for cemeteries, gothic architecture, and all things paranormal. Her books include themes of the living, the dead, and the eerie-in-between, and are usually set in iconic cities like New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco. Currently, she is writing The Elemental Clan Series, a good vs. evil set of tales involving Elementals and Fallen Angels. She now lives with her family near Atlanta, Georgia, though she misses New Orleans and can still do a Cajun accent upon request! When she’s not writing, she enjoys photography, seeing movies, and spending time with friends. For more information and to connect with Elaine online, visit her website at

This week, Elaine is going to share some of her writing experience with us, so grab your morning coffee and settle in for a great read.  And when you finish, go check out her site and pick up a book.  You'll be glad you did.

Let Setting Become a Character

Setting, or where the story takes place, is one key thing often underutilized in fiction. Most authors let the reader know where the characters are, be it a city, small town, or futuristic society, but they stop there. The depth of location is mentioned in dialogue, maybe mentioned at the beginning of a chapter, but it never becomes a true character.

This is sad, because locations can add richness and become an integral part of the book. Here are some examples:
      1. What if Gone With the Wind was set in New Jersey? The story would not only make no sense, but it would fall flat (or be oddly humorous, depending on your point of view).
         2.  What if The Hunger Games was set in a quaint, preppy village in Connecticut? It’s the futuristic, built-up world that is essential to the storyline.
          3.  Think of the Harry Potter books without the ‘world’ of Hogwarts. All the fantasy elements at Hogwarts, the place where Harry fits in, are key to telling the story.

Setting can also be more than the location. Think culture, cuisine, weather, belief systems when choosing your setting.

If you want your book to be set in a city, remember that different cities have different mindsets. This could influence how your character(s) behave. San Francisco is a walking and biking city, and people seem to be interested in fitness and trying new things. Now compare that to Jackson, Mississippi. While a historic Southern place, most people drive cars instead of walking/biking, and Mississippi is in the midst of the Bible Belt, where religion and lifestyles are likely to be more intertwined.

If your book is set in New York, chances are that your characters will take the subway on a regular basis. But in Los Angeles? Your character will be fighting rush hours and weekend traffic to get anywhere. This immediately brings to mind two characters that have to get to work by a different method. Is the one taking the subway more laid back and stress-free because he or she doesn’t have to deal with traffic? Or is he or she more uptight than the person who has to drive at least ninety minutes to get to work? What does that character do along the way? Listen to self-improvement tapes? Rock out to music? All these things are affected by setting.

The weather is also different. Setting a tale in winter in Idaho will create character obstacles that differ from setting a tale in Miami, Florida. Don’t forget to add hints of weather to your story.

To give you an example, I’m currently polishing up my book Earthbound, the third book in The Elemental Clan Series. The book is set in Portland, Oregon, so the misty rain, the numerous waterfalls and nature trails, all contribute to the book. One popular activity in Oregon is to go to coffeehouses, since it does rain so much. I’ve incorporated these details into Earthbound, so it will be more real for the reader. Same thing as in the first two books in this series. Water’s Blood is set in New Orleans, an idyllic city to set paranormal stories. Raging Fire is set in Manhattan, which is filled with rich history and underground tunnels, making for a great setting as well.

For me, I prefer to travel to the places where I want to set my book(s). However, since I haven’t won the lottery yet, sometimes I need to research places. That’s where the Internet comes in, along with social media tools like Twitter. You can find people who live in the cities you are interested in, ask them about living there. Pros, cons, etc.

The story is the reason people buy your book. Let your characters and the setting, how the two intertwine, be the reason people remember your book.

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You can find Elaine at:
Raging Fire, Book Two of The Elemental Clan Series -
Learn More about The Elemental Clan Series & Upcoming Book Releases-

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Did you enjoy what you read?  Leave me a comment and then join me at The Mess that Is Me on Facebook!

Other posts you might enjoy ~ Peace in the Ritual 
                                            The Way and the Void 
                                            The Mess Welcomes Theodore Webb 

Thanks for visiting The Mess! Keep chasing your dreams!

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