This is a blog I wrote for the Blog Carnival I was a part of, and I felt it fit right into the theme for my week of essays. I hope you enjoy it!
The settings in my stories are simply scenic and not especially significant to me, although I do paint them from places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had in life.
I set Heart of Stone in Texas because when I think of cowboys the Lone Star State comes to mind. But, that's not the only reason. Both my maternal and paternal family heritage is Texan. I lived there as a child. I can still remember the summer heat. I can still taste the watermelons we ate out on the porch. I can see the shiny spider webs in the bushes down by the lake. I can feel the cockle burrs sticking in my bare feet. I hear the crickets singing in the grass at night. And I can smell my grandma's fried chicken.
What I'm getting at is simple. As a writer, we experience settings with all five senses. Even today, when I go for a walk I’m watching, listening and thinking about what I see. The dog in my neighbor's backyard that charges the gate when I pass. I never fail to jump, my heart racing. Children laughing at the park--such a happy sound. The fact is, I never know when the impressions I get day by day might fit into a story I’m writing.
I’ll never forget the day I told my husband I was going for a walk along the riverbed. “I won’t be gone long,” I said. I became so engrossed in my surroundings, I lost track of time. The riverbed is part of the flood control in this area and continues all the way to Prado Dam. I stopped along the way to watch the water cascade over the small man-made waterfalls. I absorbed the sound of it splashing and playing along the way.
The birds—hawks soared high above me, on the lookout for prey. Majestic white egrets surprised me by flying out of the brush, so beautiful and large. A couple of swans floated on the lake to my left. And the ducks! The males preened in their pretty feathers, while the females looked dowdy in their brown “frocks.”
The leaves on the trees fluttered in the slight breeze. The high grass rippled. Small animals, rodents most likely, scurried in the brush, hiding from the circling hawk. Lizards did pushups on the hot rocks. Small birds scolded me for getting to close to their nest.
Finally, I turned around and headed back, clueless as to how much time had passed. That is until I ran into Bob and a friend, who were scouring the path looking for me. I guess my musings, and scene painting had kept me longer than I thought. After a “gentle” reminder from my worried hubby, I now carry my cell phone with me when I go on my walks. Lol But, I still take time to "smell the roses."
I think you can see how easy it is to absorb your surroundings, and transfer them onto your written pages.
My stories first form in my mind with the character in a particular setting. As in:
She saw him the minute she stepped through the thick strand of trees. He stood in the bed of the old pickup, hefting hay bales onto the dry cattle range. A modern-day Adonis—shirtless, muscles flexing with each movement of his powerful body. Sweat from a hard day’s work in the blistering heat glistened in the hair on his tanned chest.
With that scene in mind, I have my setting—a cattle ranch; conditions—dry, hot; and the beginnings of a character analysis. From this starting point I can go on to develop my story.
Books can be character-driven. They can be plot-driven. Do you ever hear of one being “setting-driven?” Of course not, but yet setting plays an important role in the overall picture a writer paints with words. It is the backbone that holds the story together. If the reader is unable to put themselves into the setting, my thinking is they’ll be confused. A confused reader is one that will soon leave an author. Remember, they don’t have access to what’s going on in our minds. We have to show them what we see.
And if we’re not sure? Research. People do live in the areas we write about, and they really don’t appreciate us painting the wrong picture.