Creating a Hybrid Setting

As we continue to follow through the year “The Journey of a Book”, how a book moves from inspiration to publication, this month’s theme is all about that most overlooked literary element, the setting. To kick off our theme, Penny Frost McGinnis is back to describe creating a hybrid setting, which means incorporating imagination with a real setting. Thanks so much for coming back, Penny!

For me—setting is another character in the story. 

In my Abbott Island series, the place where my characters live is based on and inspired by beautiful Kelleys Island, Ohio. In creating Abbott Island, I’ve taken some poetic license to add places and events, but the inspiration comes from the people and places on the little island in Lake Erie.

My husband and I had visited Kelleys Island a few times when the idea struck to set the story I had mulling in my mind on an island similar to the one I was standing on. The natural setting of parks, hiking trails, and water appealed to me and drew me there. As we hiked the alvar, the state park, and random trails across the island, it drew me in more and more. The beaches and water sports tugged at me. Where better to set the stories of the folks who inhabited my island? 

As I shaped and shifted Abbott Island to fit my characters’ stories, I imagined the activities they could partake in (which included actual events on Kelleys Island.) I inserted the real with the imagined creating a world my characters loved, to the point where the setting felt like a character.

In using a real island as inspiration, I had to be careful to honor the original place. Nothing I wrote should mar Kelleys Island. I changed the name of the island, added new businesses, renamed current businesses, kept a few of the prominent ones, and referred to a few I left unnamed. 

I incorporated the alvar, a unique natural phenomenon that occurs in a few places in Ohio in book two of the series, Home Away from Home, along with a kayak rental we used. The woman who owned the kayak booth became inspiration for Marigold in book two. She no longer runs the rental in real life, but I met her nieces and told them how she had inspired me. 

However you choose to create a setting, look for inspiration, do your research, and honor the place you choose. Pick a setting you want to spend time in, because you’ll live there while you write your books.

A few tips if you are inspired by an actual place:

  • Follow their social media
    • Facebook
    • Instagram
    • Twitter
  • Read books about the place
    • History
    • Current
  • Visit in person, if possible 
    • Take lots of photos
    • Talk to the locals
    • Experience events and activities
  • Connect to the library
    • Research

I often look for books to read that have a setting I enjoy. I’m drawn to books on the east coast, islands, and small towns. Readers are often looking for a place to go and relax, like a vacation. Create a place your readers love. Happy writing!

Thank you for the great tips on how to use real world settings to inspire imaginary ones. To read Penny’s previous guest post, click here. Be sure to check out Penny’s newest release below!

*****

Home Away From Home: Abbott Island series book #2

Will Marigold and Johnny embrace love late in life?

When Marigold Hayes turned fourteen, her mother died, and her father went missing. For forty years, she has searched for her dad and lived a quiet life on Abbott Island, until she met Johnny. As her love for Johnny grows, her sorrow from the relentless search for her father breaks her heart. She begs God to help her move forward with her life before she has no love left to give. Then three mysterious strangers show up who could change her life.

Johnny Papadakis moved to Abbott Island ten years ago. His ex-wife had pushed him away and discouraged him from having a relationship with their daughter. After years of hard work, his restaurant flourishes, so does his relationship with Marigold. As he seeks Marigold’s hand in marriage, his daughter shows up on his doorstep, looking for a place to call home. 

Can Marigold and Johnny settle the past and move toward the promise of a blessed future?

*****

If Penny Frost McGinnis could live in a lighthouse or on an island, she would. Instead, she and her husband are content to live in southwest Ohio and visit Lake Erie every chance they get. She loves God, adores her family and dog, indulges in dark chocolate, creates fiber arts, and enjoys watching baseball. She pens romance with a dash of mystery and the promise of hope. Her life’s goal is to encourage and uplift through her writing. 

Connect with Penny at her website, FB author page, Twitter, Goodreads, Bookbub, and Pinterest

The Urban Setting Thesaurus

Nothing beats visiting a setting in person. But if that’s not possible, grab a copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to City Spaces by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

This reference book lists over 100 different settings found in an urban environment. For each setting, the authors list ways to evoke all five senses, possible sources of conflict, usual inhabitants, other related settings, notes and tips, and an example of how to work the setting into a story.

I wished I could have consulted this book last winter when I realized I had to write a brief scene in a pawn shop. The only time I’d visited one was in middle school. I don’t remember why, but my dad and I entered that pawn shop in Wheeling, West Virginia. My only memories are pretty vague, except for the piece of scrimshaw I found. I needed The Urban Setting Thesaurus to get the details right, even for a short scene.

The first thirty pages consist of articles offering advice on how to get maximum effect from your settings, such as “The Setting as a Vehicle for Delivering Backstory” and “Common Setting Snags”. One article I found very informative was “Urban World Building: The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Real-Life Location.”

Even better are the appendices in the back, which include the emotional value tool and setting checklist. If you have a scene that isn’t working or won’t behave, analyze it through this checklist. The authors have provided a pdf for the setting checklist here.

What if you’re writing a story with a rural setting? Never fear. Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Puglisi have thoughtfully published The Rural Setting Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Places.

For my review of another writing book on settings, click here. I’ve also reviewed another book by Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Puglisi, The Emotion Thesaurus.

What book you’ve read has an amazing urban setting?

Walking as Writing Inspiration

I checked the time on my phone after an appointment in Worthington, Ohio. I wanted to get in my morning walk since walking has provided me with a ton of writing inspiration. The clock said I could fit it in. So I started off. Walking through the neighborhoods off the main street of Worthington is interesting because there are so many old houses. And I love old houses.

The road dipped down to a bridge, and ahead, I saw a house completely different from the others I had passed. Instead of being built in a Victorian or Federal or Craftsman style, it looked like somebody had moved a science fiction set into a heavily wooded valleyin the heart of Columbus. I had stumbled upon Rush Creek Village.

This housing development began in the 1950’s. All the homes followed the principles of organic architecture, a style developed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I really enjoyed exploring the neighborhood and taking photos. And I never would have found it if I hadn’t taken to my feet.

Since I began walking regularly five years, ago, I have discovered so many settings I file away for future stories. If I had been driving or stuck to my usual routes to get to and from places, I would have missed so many fascinating areas both where I live and in places I visited.

Benefits of Walking a Setting

If there is any way I can, I try to walk the settings of my stories. I can’t beat the benefits.

  • Walking slows me down. Even if I’m looking for a setting for a car chase, I still want to walk it. Walking helps me sees details I wouldn’t noticed if I drove by or looked at photos. It also slows down my brain, allowing me to appreciate my surroundings.
  • Walking allows me to use all five senses. Virtual tours of a location gives you the sights, but only walking it will stimulate the other senses.
  • Walking gives me confidence when writing. Because I’ve actually visited the place I’m writing about, I can write with confidence. If someone thinks it’s unbelievable that a character can’t get cell reception to call for help in an Ohio state park, I know he’s mistaken because because I’ve been to Ohio state parks that don’t have reception.

Because the setting is so important to me, I try to set my stories only places I have been to. So I take advantage of my knowledge of rural places in Ohio and West Virginia. Wherever we vacation, I make it a practice to study the place, like the coast of North Carolina. If I want to do a story on the ocean, I would pick the part of the coast I know something about, rather than trying to research an area I might never be able to visit.

If you write science fiction or fantasy or historical fiction, try to find some equivalent in the current, real world. If your space opera occurs on a desert planet, arrange a visit to a desert. If your historical romance takes place in Victorian London, and you live nowhere close to Great Britain, find a city that still has Victorian architecture. Or a living museum where guides dress and act like people from the period. If the princess-in-disguise from your fantasy hides out in a stable, volunteer to work in one.

Have you used walking as writing inspiration? When have you been most inspired?

Favorite Books — Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

Since this month’s theme is focusing on setting, I checked out several books on the topic and found a wonderful resource in a new favorite book Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle.

In my prompt from last week, I related Mr. Rozelle’s advice about carrying a journal with you wherever you go so you can make notes on memorable people, places, and things and then draw on those notes when you need inspiration.

The book is chock full of great advice like that. It covers topics in chapters such as “Showing, Telling, and Combining the Two”, a skill difficult for me to acquire, “Sensory Description”, and “Description and Setting in Specialized Fiction”. Mr. Rozelle uses examples from fiction and nonfiction and from both literary and popular fiction.

All the chapters had useful advice and information, written in an engaging style, as if the author was sitting across from you at a coffee shop. Even more helpful were the three to four exercises at the end of each chapter so readers can practice what Mr. Rozelle preached.

With so much information to learn, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I summed it up for myself this way: the setting must do more than hold characters. It should do double, triple, or even quadruple duty.

Pulling double duty

For example, my WIP, A Shadow on the Snow, is a mystery novel with a nineteen-year-old girl named Rae as the protagonist. She is an amateur photographer. That interest influences how she sees her world. I write in first-person, so the entire novel unfolds through her eyes.

Let’s say Rae enters a house and describes it in unflattering terms. Then she meets the owner and doesn’t like him either. Through my description of the setting, I’ve told readers something about Rae, something about the house, and something about the owner of the house. If this dislike makes Rae act in a certain away, then my description has also influenced the plot. So the setting is working hard, not only being the background for the action but revealing characters and affecting the action.

It’s similar to laying clues in a mystery. Readers don’t know if a conversation is only imparting information or if it’s also providing a clue. Or it may be a red herring. But a conversation, action sequence, setting, or character should be more than what it initially appears to be.

This concept energizes and intimidates me. I love the challenge of making my settings work that hard but also wonder if I can meet the challenge. Some of Mr. Rozelle’s examples are so perfect that I feel I could never equal them.

How do you work your setting? Do you have a book you recommend?

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