All stories are set somewhere. From the most mundane office to the most exotic tropical beach, the setting can have a great effect on a story. Take the mundane office, for example. If it’s described as a place that’s sucking the life out of the main character, it provides all kinds of possibilities for the character’s escape from the perceived prison of a job she hates. And the tropical beach? What better place to have the hero and heroine fall in love? There’s something so romantic about warm ocean breezes, sunshine, and long stretches of pristine white sand.
So, how does one go about choosing a setting for a particular story? Well, for me, it depends a lot on the characters and the plot. Since I’m one of those people who writes by the seat of my pants, the plot tends to evolve as I get deeper into the story. But I usually have a vague idea of where I’d like the story to go and the personalities of the characters.
In the case of my inspirational romance Dreams Do Come True, the setting just came to me naturally. I wanted small town atmosphere, but I wanted it close to a large city. I tossed around several locations before settling on a fictional town just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. Why Cincinnati, you ask? Well, I’ve gone through it multiple times, so I’m at least vaguely familiar with it, and I’ve been to Ohio enough to have a good idea of how the people talk and dress. I know that statement makes it sound like Ohio is a foreign country, which it very well could be to some of my readers, but I’ve been in enough states to know that for all of the similarities, there are subtle differences as well. It’s hard to point out specific differences, since they are subtle, but it’s essential for a writer to be familiar enough with her story’s setting to be able to write it realistically. You never know who is going to read your story, and if your version of Maryland sounds more like British Columbia, someone will notice and likely tell all of their friends that you don’t know anything about Maryland.
Another part of the setting to keep in mind isn’t just the location, but also the time period. Writing a story set in 1735 and having your characters speak like they’re from the current day is a good way to get rejections from editors and annoy readers. As I’ve said so many times, it’s all about realism. If your plot or your characters aren’t believable, no one is going to want to read your story. The same thing goes for the setting; both time and place have to be believable for readers to want to read it.
There are so many perspectives on what makes a good setting and how writers choose them. For a look at what other authors have to say about setting, check out the rest of the Classic Romance Revival blog carnival.