Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Relationship Between Plot and Setting

I "met" Vickie Britton through a marketing listserv for mystery writers. Since I love mysteries and history, especially ancient Egypt, I had to grab a copy of The Curse of Senmut, a mystery she wrote with her sister. And they have others involving the Maya and Inca as well! So many wonderful books, so little free time. Vickie and Loretta also have one e-book on the craft of writing, Fiction: From Writing to Publication (available on Amazon or Smashwords) and one focused on mystery novels, Writing and Selling a Mystery Novel: A Simple Step-by Step Plan, available on Smashwords. Here they share some advice on The Relationship Between Plot and Setting

A good setting works hand in hand with plot, for like the scenes of a movie or the props for a play, it establishes the necessary background for the action and the success of your story. Below is an excerpt from our ebook  Fiction: From Writing to Publication.

Developing a setting is very important to a novel for it adds flavor and color to the book. Many times a novel is begun because of the author’s interest in a particular setting. Because of this, a sense of place emerges naturally from what is known and understood. Often writers select their home towns, states and countries where they have lived or visited, or one where they want to go. If this place is significant to the writer, it will show in the work. What would Tony Hillerman’s novels be without the canyons and small towns of New Mexico, or Willa Cather’s without the Nebraska prairie?

In The Bridges of Madison County, author Robert James Waller wrote so convincingly about the area that readers actually went in search of the covered bridge mentioned in his story, even though the bridge itself is fictional.

While it is the best policy to travel to your settings, you can portray a good setting with proper research. Say you want to set your book in China. Sometimes it’s just not possible to have an extended stay in China, although a ten-day trip might be within your budget. But if it’s not possible to travel to your chosen setting at all except in your mind, the Internet and the library become your new best friends.

Pictures, written narratives, websites with shots of the area can give you a feel for the setting without actually traveling to the location. The Internet, especially, has become a good source for viewing remote areas through specialized maps and photographs, providing details that were once not possible without an actual visit.... Whether your books are set on the Sioux Reservation in South Dakota or in an English village, a strong setting will often draw and hold readers. A story can be set in a big city, a small town, or just about anywhere in between, but it is always of great importance. Your job as an author is to create a good setting and make sure it is in harmony with the characters you are creating. [End excerpt.]

What works best for us is to personally visit every setting for our stories, to get a feeling for the location. Sometimes we may change certain details such as making up our own towns, rivers, mountains, etc, but they are always in keeping with what might be found in the actual area.

Here are some examples of how some of our plots have developed from our own experience with travel and personal interests. Ardis Cole, in our Ardis Cole Mystery Series, is an archaeologist who travels the world and runs into a crime in every different place. The plots for these novels were actually formed from the settings. For instance, in The Curse of Senmut a tomb is located which is believed to belong to Senmut, Queen Hatshepsut’s scribe and lover, and in Unmarked Grave a skull is found on the grounds of an ancient castle in Scotland, one that we visited.

When Vickie lived in Laramie, Wyoming, we became drawn to the Old West, the legends and rough terrain. From this love grew our High Country Mystery Series, The Luck of the Draw Western Series, and the Western single Death Comes in Pairs.

An authentic setting will draw the reader into the story and give them a sense of actually being there.

Biography: Loretta Jackson and Vickie Britton are sisters and co-authors of forty-three novels and numerous short stories, mostly mysteries and westerns.
          Loretta lives in Junction City, Kansas, and Vickie in Hutchinson, Kansas. Loretta taught school at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota while Vickie was living in Laramie, Wyoming. There they became interested in the legends and history of the Old West.
           Their recent titles include Whispers of the Stones, The Wild Card, The Lost City of the Condor and The Viking Crown .The sisters were recently interviewed in The Mystery Writers:Interviews and Advice by Jean Henry Mead More about the authors and their works can be found by visiting their web page , or Amazon Author Central.

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