Monday, October 10, 2011

"Setting" the Mood

It's been said that the setting of a book can often become a character in the story. This happens when an author makes the location live and breathe, and the reader feels fully immersed in the place described on the pages. I think it takes a special skill as a writer to provide the right amount of descriptive detail to accomplish this. It's a skill I'm constantly working to attain.

When I first dreamed up the story for my book, LIFE ON THE EDGE, it was a house that determined the setting. I imagined my protagonist living in the Cape Cod townhouse in which I'd stayed a few summers earlier. The charm of the townhome had stayed with me, from the cozy bottom floor kitchen to the rooftop deck, complete with a view of the bay and a never-ending sea breeze. I wanted my main character, Emily, to live there.

From that Hyannis house grew the rest of the backdrop to the story. Emily is a figure skater, so she needed a place to train. Check - a few towns away there's an ice rink, where Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie once skated.

Because Boston is one of my favorite cities and I'm very familiar with it, I decided to make it Emily's hometown. It was during my third trip to Boston that I discovered neighboring Brookline and the area in which I imagined Emily growing up.

I could picture her as a child, riding her bike along the quiet, tree-lined street, and walking with her dad to the Coolidge Corner T stop to catch the Green Line train to Fenway Park. With these images in my mind, I started to fill out Emily's backstory, which helped me know my main character better. 

Since Emily is an Olympic-eligible skater, LIFE ON THE EDGE takes her to a number of competitions in a variety of locations - Paris, Tokyo, and Vancouver, to name a few. I haven't visited all the places I wrote about in the book, so I did research in order to accurately describe them. The internet is a writer's best friend!

Online information can only give so much insight, though. Experiencing your story setting first hand provides invaluable sensory data - the sights, the smells, the sounds that can't be appreciated through a computer screen. You can feel what your characters feel as they live your story.

Have you ever "walked in your characters' shoes" and visited the places you write about?  Scheduled a vacation to a location you want to write about in the future?


  1. Jennifer--I think you do a great job of setting the scene in LOTE. I've never traveled anywhere for research for one of my books, but I did go to Boston and tried to track down the places Robert B. Parker writes about in his Spenser novels. How sick is that?! But it was so much fun. I'm with you--I LOVE Boston!

  2. Thanks Rachelle and Marigold! Rachelle, the locations were beautiful and easy to photograph :)

    Marigold, that sounds like a lot of fun! That's sort of what I did last year when I visited the Cape. I'd researched a lot of places on the internet when I wrote the book and then drove all around looking for them. It was an adventure!