Friday, January 15, 2010
Where to go w/Your Set Piece…SETTING the Stage…Setting is Character
James Lee Burke’s novels come instantly to mind when one thinks of the New Orleans area, in particular New Iberia, LA. Mark Twin leaps to mind for Life on the Mississippi and for Missouri in particular. Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens for 18th Century London and environs. Some authors are so closely associated with a given geography that we must know it is due to their depiction of that area in such intimate terms due to their intimacy with place.
Setting does not always take such prominence in a novel, but when it does get “captured” like a running film with all its quirks, pimples, darkness, and light, it becomes a character in a sense, one the main character interacts with, relates to, is fascinated with and loves and often protects, or detest and is often at odds with and will decry its ugliness for instance. And true sometimes the protagonists has terribly ambivalent feelings about his or her surroundings—be it Chicago, LA, New York, Miami, Houston, etc…etc…
In Pure Instinct, I became so enamored with Hawaii that I provided a complete character of it, but in the novel it is my interpretation, the place having been put through the prism of Dr. Jessica Coran’s eye—sifted through the mind and heart of my protagonist. This makes the character of Hawaii in that novel uniquely mine, yet it is based on facts and research and having visited the state, and having come away with a powerful, moving impression that the place made on me, the author. Until then, I had never so thoroughly engrossed myself in presenting setting as character, but here was a setting that informed all the characters in the story and shaped them as well. After writing Pure Instinct, I began a concerted effort to always “characterize” my settings; to make setting equal out to character. As a result, that plan has served my novels well from my depiction of 1893 Chicago in my Inspector Alastair Ransom series to modern day Atlanta in Dead On, Houston in my Edge Series, and a variety of major cities in my Instinct Series as well as Early New England of 1692 infamy in Children of Salem.
Whether an author chooses to use quick and generic brush strokes or fine and detailed brush strokes regarding setting, the attitude an author strikes about this extremely important element in story is all important. In short story, I feel, the quick, generic strokes are needed due to space limitations, but in a novel, I look to do the finest detail work I can muster…but that’s just me.
Let me know what you think of Character is Setting. Would love to hear from you! I imagine that I have sketched a city near you at one time or another.
Happy Reading and Writing,
http://www.authonomy.com/ (free 8 chapter peek at Children of Salem)