Friday, November 6, 2015

Inspiring Places: Can a Place have a Pulse?

I was thinking about what I wanted to touch on for our Inspiring Places series and I stumbled across this gem... one of my early posts as an Alley Cat! Touched it up a bit and thought it was PERFECT!


Think about your favorite books. Are you thinking of them? Am I going to have to ask you to close your eyes? Kidding. Sort of. J But what makes a setting work for you?

Is it just a vivid description of a place? I would say no. It’s not so much a picture you paint for your reader but a character that moves and breathes through the pages.

As I am a bit of a hometown girl (Go Cardinals!) my first several novels have been set in St. Louis. We are talking all season Midwest. No sandy beaches (Well, aside from the ones snuggled up to a muddy riverbank.) No backdrop of majestic snow-tipped mountains. Just the muggy, hilly, temperamental Midwest.

I mean, I love living here, but what about this seemly bland backdrop will make a good destination for a story?

Here’s my theory…

Any place that you can give a pulse will make for an engaging setting.

Now you may think I’m talking loco here. And most days I’m only one firm foot outside the loony bin, but just for a moment leave logic behind and embrace the idea of your setting coming to life like Frankenstein. It’s ALIVE!!!

Sorry, couldn't resist!

-Give your setting a personality or a temperament.
I always refer to my city as a girl because, well, she’s feisty, and completely unpredictable. We can have clear blue skies and daffodils peeking through the mulch one day and get pelted with ten inches of snow the next.

How does the weather affect your characters? How they dress, how they feel, how they react to stress? Where they spend their time? All these factors intertwine with the development of your hero and heroine’s journey through the pages. The temperament of the setting will play on the character’s emotions. And perhaps even their motivations.

Example: In my first book When Fall Fades both the hero and heroine are struggling with the weight of the past, with unfinished business of sorts that keeps them from embracing what God has for their future. So I had the story take place in the fall, except one where good old St. Louis is resisting the change. Clinging to those long, oppressively hot, unrelenting days of an Indian summer in wait of relief of autumn.

When the heroine finally surrenders this is how the setting responds:

And just then, the ever feisty wind kicked up. Leaves lifted from the ground in a funnel of confetti and her long, wild hair caught that first true gust of a cool autumn breeze, marking and celebrating the beginning of a new season.

*Boiled down here-when your setting is not just a background but a living entity in your story it enhances the journey of your characters.

-Give your setting a voice.
Okay, so lets be honest, the trees can’t talk. The wind doesn’t really whisper. A house might not really moan, per say. But when your setting becomes a character in your story, it does do these things. When you give your inanimate things a pulse, they become alive to the reader. That old house now carries a feeling beyond what you tell the reader it looks like. Maybe it’s tired. Neglected. Aching and battered from the harsh winter.

Maybe your characters feel the same way. 

Example: This is from book two coming out in 2016 called In His Grip. This clip is longer, and I trimmed some extra details since I'm quite lengthy today, but it doesn’t really need an intro…

With each step the weathered boards groaned the swan song of the weary, aging house. The aching sound beneath Finn’s feet resounded yet another failure as it shuddered through him.
There was so much to do. So much need. And Finn was certainly no hero.
The house served as a reminder of that.
The gutters were constantly spilling over from the clogging remnants of autumn leaves. A dusty black shutter had slipped loose during a storm and hung diagonally across an opaque window. Everything about the house seemed to sag—as if it were a vestibule for the forgotten.
            The screen door whined, the sound trailing away on the bitter wind as Finn rapped on the peeling red door. And when that door echoed a wail on its equally rusty, old hinges it revealed a compassionate Trisha Bolliver—looking as stressed and pained as the old, moaning house.

*Nutshell-Take liberties with your senses to give that place, not just a sound, but a voice. Make your place a person that interacts with your characters. Because while everything you say about your setting paints a picture, it can also tell its own version of the story.

This is your art, your story. The more life you give to that setting, the more alive the story will become. Make your reader fall down the rabbit hole and walk in your wonderland.

**We all have something to learn at each point in this journey. Simply having a teachable spirit can help you transform your stories from good to great. I am by no means an expert so it'd be so helpful to make this a collaborate effort. Any of you have tips you’d like to add on setting? Love to hear them!


Amy Leigh Simpson writes romantic mysteries with honesty and humor, sweetness and spice, and gritty reality covered by grace. When she’s not stealing moments at naptime to squeeze out a few more adventures in storyland, she’s chasing around two tow-headed miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with one sweet princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most swoon-worthy man alive. Amy is a Midwestern-girl, a singer, blogger, runner, coffee-addict, and foodie. Her Sports Medicine degree is wasted patching up daily boo boo’s, but whatever is left usually finds its way onto the page with fluttering hearts, blood and guts, and scars that lead to happily ever after.

Check out her debut romantic mystery novel WHEN FALL FADES available now for $3.99!


Julia M. Reffner said...

Wow, love your excerpts, Amy. Can't wait to read more! Great examples of using setting!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Jules! We covered setting pretty well, huh? No ones got anything left to say ;)

Mary Vee Writer said...

What great points to end our two weeks of Setting.

I think we all realize, way in the back of our mind, that setting should be treated as a living, breathing character, but often we sacrifice this great character in the name of "moving the story along". As I read your excerpts, I can't help but wonder how your story would have lacked without these great segments.

Thanks for the tips, for reminding us of the importance of treating setting as a vital character

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Mary! I hear ya! There is definitely a delicate balance. Keeping a swinging pace and breaking up those descriptions is equally important. So many things to consider, but so much fun to weave them all together and create something special. :)

Debbie Stehlick said...

Loved your post Amy. Your examples of your setting having a pulse were really good examples.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Deb, so glad you stopped by!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow! that is awesome!

I loved the advice of "take liberties with your senses". Letting your senses give your setting a voice...that is such a good way to put it.

Pepper said...

Fantastic post, Amy - and great tips. Your writing is BEAUTIFUL...of course, and what a way to compare setting with what's happening with your characters.
I LOVE it!!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Sher and Pep! Hope the setting series got people thinking outside the box. It's where I live ;)

Debbie Stehlick said...

I love reading your descriptions. They draw me in to the story and I'm hooked.I'm reading "When Fall Fades" and don't want to put it down:)

Robin E. Mason said...

i had a story idea several years ago about a house that is (who is?) the main character, the story told from the POV of the house.... methinks i shall dig it out and see what happens!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Debbie-that, right there, is music to any writer's ears :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Robin!! That's awesome!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Robin!! That's awesome!!

Iola said...

Thanks for the advice. As a reader, I love it when I can get a feel for a place I've never visited, or can recognise a place I do know. It really adds to the novel for me.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Me too, Lola! It's part of the magic of story!