Writing about Place

I got the brilliant idea (at least, it seemed like it at the time) to write four or five different series of novellas, and I wanted each one to have a slightly different flavor.  To achieve that, I used settings to distinguish one set of stories from another.

For the Babet/Prosper series, I set the stories in River City–a place of gumbo, po’boys, and magic.  Witches and Weres feel comfortable on its streets.  A succubus runs its bordello.    Voodoo mingles with juju, and a bogeyman might stop for a visit.  There’s an “anything goes” type of vibe to the place.

I wanted my gargoyle/gorgon series to have a different feel.  Gargoyles are guardians of cities and churches.  They take themselves seriously.  River City would scandalize them.  So I put them in an urban area, filled with good, solid citizens who need protected from the “others” who are up to no good.  Paranormals shift to look like mortals, to blend among us.  And no bad deed goes unpunished.

For my Loralei/Death series, I wanted a smaller, more personal setting, so Loralei lives in a cozy, stone cottage at the end of a long, winding drive.  If someone visits there, it’s because they’re desperate.  And they’re willing to pay a price for Death’s favors.

The point is, when you choose a setting for whatever story you’re working on, the setting becomes an integral part of the plot and characterization.  Why does the protagonist live there?  Why does he stay instead of leave?  What sort of flavor does the setting have?  Does it suit the tone of the story?  In my Emerald Hills novellas, the town itself becomes a minor character that drives the stories.  It has magic tucked in different tourist shops.  It calls people to it.

Cozy mysteries usually take place in small towns, whereas P.I. novels favor big cities.  There’s a reason.  Settings contribute to the pulse of a story.  Choose them carefully.  And make them real–so that we can smell the gas fumes or the cinnamon and sugar at the donut shop.  Are there wide expanses of cement and skyscrapers or striped awnings and brick streets?  And why is this particular setting important to the protagonist?  Does he love it or hate it?  Feel at home or trapped?  The setting and how the protagonist responds to it helps to create the mood of the story.


11 thoughts on “Writing about Place

  1. wow that is music to my ears Judith…You have a brilliant mind filled with endless creative possibilities. The gargoyle idea sounds very very intriguing, especially considering how little they’ve been used in recent literature. Your enchanted little town would also seem a great idea for a movie :).


      1. Not really :). But I don’t wanna rush too much into it…considering it’s my first novel :). I write daily but not more than 500 words…which is very little compared to your amazing writing abilities :). Kisses lovely Judith.


  2. WordPress didn’t let me comment last time I visited – maybe a glitch with the hurricane? I really enjoy how you put to words so clearly the process of writing… this post made me realize that the reason I so enjoy historical fiction is the settings. A recognizable place but set in a different timeframe changes the nature of the characters and how they respond. Thanks for sharing – I want more! Oh, and do you have a link or information about books you’ve published, Judith? I’d be interested in scoping them out…


  3. I might do another blog about settings, because they color the entire story–mood and characters, for me. If you like mystery, have you ever read Barbara Hambly’s mysteries set in New Orleans during slavery? They can get pretty grim, but boy, do they give a sense of place.

    I have a webpage and need to figure out how to get it on my blog. Here it is: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/ The novellas are really short, usually between 30 and 40 pages.


  4. Good words, I’ll be back for more 🙂

    PS Typo alert :
    “… filled with good, solid citizens who need protected from…”
    should be either
    “… filled with good, solid citizens who need to be protected from…”
    “… filled with good, solid citizens who need protectedprotection from…”
    — sorry, can’t help it 😉


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