Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The inspiration of setting

Barbara here. Aline's post about how spectacular settings inspire an author's imagination is very timely. I am in the very initial stages of imagining my next book and I know almost nothing about it besides its setting. A lot is made of character and plot in the creation of a successful story, but setting is the third pillar upon which great story telling rests. Setting is the cradle of a story, background to the sparkle of characters and action but the supports that hold the story up to the light and allow its facets to show through.

A setting is more than just a place; it is the season, the time period, the weather, the people, and the history. Story grows out of such fertile soil. In fact, a great story could not truly have been told in another place and time.

In my Amanda Doucette series, I deliberately chose to change the setting for each novel in the series. The first, Fire in the Stars, is set in the rugged, beautiful wilderness of Newfoundland, land of brooding forests, crashing surf, soaring cliffs, and stubborn, feisty island people who take on the world their own way. The second novel, The Trickster's Lullaby, is set in Quebec's Mont Tremblant during the winter, and the cold, the blizzards, the stunning monochromatic beauty of winter wilderness are like characters in the story, challenging the players and directing the course of the action.

The nitty-gritty of winter camping

This latest book was just submitted to the publisher this past weekend, and so now I turn my thoughts, and my imagination, to the third book in the series – Prisoners of Hope. It is set during a summer kayaking expedition in the gorgeous granite islands of Georgian Bay. I have some vague plot ideas – wealthy island mansion owners, domestic foreign workers, local villagers, frightened fugitives washing up on remote island shores – but beyond that I will have to explore the setting to find the essence and shape of the story I want to tell. I have topographical maps, maps of Killarney Provincial Park, and several pamphlets about the area spread out on the dining room table. During the long winter, I will immerse myself in them, and in the memories of a previous kayaking trip made to the Georgian Bay Islands some summers ago.

The granite shores of Georgian Bay

But although the internet, maps, and books can tell me a lot about a setting, I believe there is no substitute for visiting the location, ideally in the season I am writing about, because without wandering the place, seeing the sights, listening to the sounds and feeling the breezes, I don't feel I know its secrets well enough to write about it. Visiting the locale is about more than feeding the five senses; it's about finding inspiration. From standing on the top deck of a fishing boat, I get inspiration for a scene in my book, and nothing creates a feeling of authenticity like sharing the same footsteps and struggles as your character.

For Fire in the Stars, I spent weeks in Newfoundland and walked many of the same paths as Amanda. If I hadn't done that I would never have discovered the tuckamore forests which played an important role in the story.

Tuckamore forest with its secret opening into its underworld

For The Trickster's Lullaby, I even took a winter camping expedition. In preparation for Prisoners of Hope, I visited Georgian Bay this summer and walked its pink granite shores, its marinas, and its little villages. In the spring I will make another visit and probably a kayaking trip for further inspiration.

For me, I love exploring setting, bringing it to life, and travelling to distant locales while I write. I hope readers will enjoy the trips too!

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