Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | By: Lynn

Set Me Up

List your favorite books in your mind and what stands out as the reason you love reading them? Probably you enjoyed the characters—their personalities and their stories—whether their stories were adventure, intrigue, romance, or all of those things and more. What about setting?

I would put at the top of my list of favorite books all the books in the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong. The first one I read, Bitten, hooked me, to put it mildly. Armstrong wrote strong, three dimensional characters I wanted to spend time with. Throughout the series, the characters remained consistently interesting and the plots were sitting-on-the-edge-of-my-seat good. The characters and their stories were highly engaging, but for me, the setting proved equally satisfying. I realized that a good story, for me, offers a variety of elements that together make a complete and satisfying read, and setting is one of those elements.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, imagine the story without the backdrop of the various settings. Didn't you want to walk down the short stairway into the Gryffindor living space and settle in front of the fireplace—with a good book? Couldn't you imagine yourself walking through the hallways of Hogwarts, watching the movement of the subjects in the many paintings, and finding your way into Dumbledore's office, with all its fascinating objects? The characters and the adventures were large, but the setting was the backdrop of their lives and we get a feeling of being there because it's so well done. We enjoy Hagar's cozy abode and the quirkiness of the Weasley home and we want to come back.

In Bitten and other Otherworld books, the setting for the werewolves includes Stonehaven, the home of the pack's Alpha and essentially home base for them all. Stonehaven is a large, beautiful and secluded, well, haven for the family of werewolves. They can luxuriate in being themselves while being protected by unfailing privacy (from the outside world) and plenty of space, both indoors in the spacious home and outdoors in the surrounding fields and forests. I wanted to live there myself. In Stolen, a subsequent book in the series, though the setting is predominately in an underground prison, when main character Elena finally escapes, she goes home to Stonehaven to recover. The description is so well done that readers can relax, too, in the concept of a place of comfort, safety, and support.

 A book's setting doesn't have to be fantasy in nature but it can still be magical if it fuels a reader's understanding of the struggles characters suffer, even when their setting is dangerous territory. A few years ago I read Donovan's Child, by Christine Rimmer. It's a category romance that was an easy read for a variety of reasons, but, in part, because the setting was mesmerizing. Circumstances bring together Donovan McRae and Abilene Bravo on his ranch setting. Again, cozy and comfortable, the setting played a role in the appeal for me.

Though characterization and plot are primary in importance, of course, a detailed and authoritative description of setting can support characterization and plot. In R.T. Wolfe's Black Creek Burning, the description of the heroine's home supports her attachment to family and her ongoing sense of loss. We can imagine how Brianna feels connected to her parents while surrounded by the structure of the home she grew up in, and yet haunted by their absence. The description of setting woven for woodcrafter and hero Nathan supports his expertise of his craft and makes him believable as a caring and sensitive man. In Rena Koontz's Love's Secret Fire there is plenty of intrigue and danger, but when hero Adam Michaels offers heroine Valerie Daniels his hotel suite as a place of respite after a terrible ordeal, his gesture shows us his kindness, but the setting—his luxurious suite—gives readers a place of relaxation and safety to watch their relationship develop. In the setting we can believe that Valerie can imagine letting down her guard.

Whether a writer or a reader or both, don't you find setting is high on your list of things that make a book good? What books have you read where the setting was masterfully done? What about the setting resonated for you? Share?


RT Wolfe said...

Thank you for the mention, Lynn. Great post.
-R.T. Wolfe
Author of the Black Creek Series

Lynn said...

Thanks R.T. for stopping by.

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