Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Characters and plot in search of setting

Barbara here.Today I want to continue the fascinating topic of muses that was raised in Aline's and Rick's two previous posts. Aline zeroed in on "motive" or rather the whole picture of what drives that particular killer to kill at that moment in that way, which forms the whole underlying question of the story. Rick addressed starting points--that germ of an image or idea that pops out of nowhere and starts the writer's mind on its creative journey.

Both of these are key elements to storytelling. One provides the initial spark and the other guides us in the weaving of the story flowing from that spark, just as an oyster slowly builds a pearl out of a grain of sand. I want to talk about setting, because that is foremost on my mind right now, and in the case of my Amanda Doucette novels, I can't begin the story until I have some idea of the setting. Each novel in this new series is set in a different iconic location in Canada, with the view that by the time I wrap up the series, I will have touched on Canada's beautiful, varied landscape and culture from coast to coast to coast.

Book One, Fire in the Stars, is set in the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, a wild and beautiful land of crashing oceans, craggy mountains, icebergs, and little fishing villages. It is already written, and due for release in early September. I have visited Newfoundland several times and have roots there, but I made two research trips to make sure I got the right feel and detail for the exact places I was writing about. Book Two, The Trickster's Lullaby, is set in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains just north of Mont Tremblant, and although I went there often for skiing and summer fun, I still made two short trips once I was writing the book in order to get the detail right. The setting needs to match the story I want to tell, and sometimes this means massaging the story a bit and other times changing the exact locale I had in mind.

Setting means not just physical surroundings but also season and weather. My third Amanda Doucette book is set in Georgian Bay and involves kayaks and rich island mansions. During these hot summer months I am finalizing the winter camping story in the Laurentians, and I will be writing the first draft of the summer Georgian Bay story in the dead of the upcoming Ontario winter. So I changed my writing schedule to do some location setting this summer, to figure out exactly where to set Prisoners of Hope. What a fun trip it was, driving the length of the eastern shores of Georgian Bay, exploring little villages and shoreline roads, and ending up in the village of Killarney at the northern tip of the bay, where the dogs and I took a lovely walk along the pink granite shore to the lighthouse.

The villages and shores themselves provided inspiration and plot ideas as well as dramatic atmosphere, and a long talk with the local outfitter helped me to plan the fictional trip my characters will take. None of that would be possible without a hands-on visit. Once I start writing the book, I know I will have many more questions about the setting, and will scour the internet for answers as well as keep a running list. When next summer comes and the first draft is hopefully mostly written, I will make another trip to Georgian Bay to get my final answers.

Even better than visiting the setting is walking through the experiences the characters will have. Thus in Newfoundland, I took hikes through the woods and along the ocean cliffs, took the whaling boat trip that my characters take, and ate in the restaurants. For the Laurentian book, I actually took a four-day winter camping trip. I would love to take a Georgian Bay kayaking trip, and am currently trying to see whether I can fit it into my schedule this fall. Stay tuned!


Roland Clarke said...

I agree that setting is a vital ingredient and therefore getting it to feel right is important. I'm lucky to be living in Snowdonia, North Wales and it's proving to be the ideal setting for a detective mystery. I just have to make sure I get a few more trips in before emigrating to the US in eight weeks.

Problem, I'm in a wheelchair so it's hard to get out and about for any reason. So even living where I do, I use the internet to add to what I have.

As for your settings, I went to college in the Laurentians and will always have fond memories of the whole area.

Aline Templeton said...

I do agree, Barbara. When setting is really important to a book, you have to go there and often that makes you a present of the plot. The Muse of Place, perhaps, if we're into Muses!

Barbara Fradkin said...

Roland, I don't know what we writers did before the internet. I recall poring over books and maps, searching library catalogues and hauling piles of books off the shelves, and also making stuff up! The internet allows us to travel so many places. I particularly like people's travel blogs and photos, as well as YouTube videos.