How To Pick A Setting For Your Book
Here I am again, having just finished writing one opus and now contemplating the next. Where to place it? Where would you set your book, if you were to write one?
I’ve been writing about New England pretty much since the start of my career. There were a few exceptions years ago when I set one story in Brazil, another in North Carolina, another still in the Caribbean. And then there’s a break-out book for me, COAST ROAD, which is set in California’s Big Sur. Since my husband and I had vacationed there many, many times, I knew the area well. That leads to my first point.
1. Pick a Place You Know
If writing is about painting a picture with words, the picture must be in your mind first. Personal experience helps with that. Ever hear the old rule, write about what you know? That applies to location as well. If you’ve spent personal time in a place, you’re more comfortable there.
Having lived in New England all my life, I’m comfortable here. Though I’ve always lived in Massachusetts, I spent my childhood summers in Maine, my adult winters skiing at Mt. Snow or Sugarbush or North Conway, my parenting years with the kids on Cape Cod, the Rhode Island shore, or (as you can see from the photos below) New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.
AN ACCIDENTAL WOMAN, THE VINEYARD, A WOMAN’S PLACE, THREE WISHES – I could go on and on listing books of mine that illustrate this point. Since I know these places, my comfort shines from the pages of my book.
That said, personal experience is not always possible, even within the bounds of New England. I mean, really, I’ve written more than 80 novels. Wouldn’t it be boring to keep returning to the same exact towns, even if in different states, for all of those books? Readers like variety. Well, so do writers. This leads to my second point.
2. Pick a Place Where You Want To Be
This is the fun part. Where do I want to be for the next 18 months? That’s how long it will take me to plot and write my next book. I’m usually at my computer with tea and my book at 5 am in the morning. How to pull myself out of bed at that early hour if not to be somewhere desirable?
If I wrote a different kind of book, perhaps one that makes a blunt statement about the human condition, it would be different. But I write books with happy endings. That’s what we all dream about, isn’t it? I sure do. Life doesn’t always go the way we want it – and my books often do deal with heavy subjects. As a writer, I have to deal with those plot arcs. But if so, I want the dealing to take place in a spot where I want to be.
I mention variety above. Fortunately, there’s great variety in New England. I try to travel to different states with each book. Since A WEEK AT THE SHORE (coming in May 2020) is set in Rhode Island and the book before that, BEFORE AND AGAIN, is set in Vermont, and the one before that, BLUEPRINTS, is set in Massachusetts, and the one before that, SWEET SALT AIR, is set in Maine, it must be time for New Hampshire, or Connecticut, or back to Maine. Or so my thinking goes.
Do you have a preference?
And there you go, my next point.
3. Pick A Place The Reader Will Enjoy
You like to lose yourself in a book. So do I. How better to do that than to be somewhere you’d like to visit? Our world can be ugly. Often we’re stuck in places we don’t want to be. All the more reason to escape to a spot where you can breathe, one that is appealing and hopeful, even if that means a fixer-upper in the middle of nowhere, as Caroline and Dean do in BLUEPRINTS?
So, I pick a place that I love and then pass the love on to you – which leads to reader tours. I’m a Game of Thrones fan. Would I love to visit some of the locales where various scenes are set? You bet! Same with Downton Abbey and Outlander. So I totally understand – and love it – when readers tell me that they’ve taken the SWEET SALT AIR tour of the Maine islands or the LAKE NEWS tour of New Hampshire towns.
Not that I can pick any random place – although, come to think of it, closing my eyes and pointing randomly to a map of New England and then setting my story there might be an adventure.
And that leads to my final point.
4. Pick A Place That Fits The Plot – or Make The Plot Fit The Place!
If I’m writing about a family gathering during the summer (A WEEK AT THE SHORE), a beach locale like the Rhode Island coast is perfect. Here’s my family – well, five of the grands – two years ago in just that spot, having converged there to celebrate a big anniversary with my husband and me.
Or, if I’m writing about a woman who just up and runs away from an unhappy life in Manhattan (ESCAPE), an off-the-beaten-path Vermont town works. If I’m writing about a woman who inherits an elegant townhouse from her late estranged father (FLIRTING WITH PETE), Boston’s Beacon Hill fits the bill.
Conversely, when it was time for me to set a book in New Hampshire, where there is a significant history of granite quarrying, I consciously built a plot using that activity as a centerpiece of THE PASSIONS OF CHELSEA KANE.
And now, here we are in June of 2019, with BEFORE AND AGAIN newly released and on sale everywhere and forever, in trade paperback. This is my very favorite format, in that it’s affordable, easy to hold and read, and beautifully packaged.
The setting of this one is a fictitious town in Vermont. I’ve called it Devon, but its model is Woodstock Why? Because my husband and I have been vacationing there forever. Because our kids learned to ski there. Because one of our sons now owns a house there, the site of a big birthday bash for me several years ago, my happiest birthday ever.
Bottom line? Even beyond the wonderful memories I have of this town, I know the place well, meaning that I can easily paint it for you folks.
Let me know how I did, please?
In the meanwhile, I’ll keep pondering the setting of my next novel, the one I’ve yet to plot. It has to be in New England since you readers expect that from me by now.
Connect with me on social media: Twitter, Facebook, my new Street Team (click to join for fun, exclusive things I’m dreaming up), Pinterest, Instagram, and that’s it for now. I need time to write my books!
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“Write what you know…” Best advice ever. As for where you go next? I know you mentioned Maine…but I’m partial to Vermont and an unexpected snow.
You should set a book in beautiful , historic Cape May, New Jersey! It just so happens that I live there…
I’m captivated with Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Nantucket.
How about the Adirondacks? So many options to choose from and close to cities, mountains, rivers, lakes, performing arts…