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Setting The Scene – bringing the story to life through a sense of place

Setting is usually an important part of a novel, and can often become a character in itself. Although much of what I write is character-driven, the setting I choose helps ground the story in time and place, which adds to the overall ‘realism’ of what’s taking place. I love reading a book where you feel like you are part of the setting; watching or experiencing what’s going on – feeling the sun on your skin, or the cool ocean breeze, or taking in the ambience of a popular cafe. Good writing will draw you into the setting and the story, making it easy to form a mental picture of everything. But although it’s important to set the scene, I try not to overdo the description of a place, preferring to get stuck into the dialogue or action of the plot.

In my novel, The Life Makeover Club, the characters and plot drive the story forward, but certain places and settings are important in the book. It is set in Sydney, Australia, and most of the story takes place right in the city itself. The reason I chose this setting is twofold: 1, I only live a couple of hours from Sydney and have been there many times, so it was easier for me to write about a place I knew, and 2, I thought an exclusive ‘club’ involving people wanting to makeover their life would be more likely to take place in a well-populated area, so I chose the city of Sydney.

The club meetings take place in The Ruby Room of City Health and Fitness (a fictional health centre). The gym in the same centre is also an important setting, where fitness fanatic Gina attends regularly, and fitness-phobic Miranda attends once or twice, after some well-meaning coercion!

Miranda works the reception desk at the 5-star Harbourside Towers, a luxurious (fictional) hotel with gold-plated everything! Toward the end of the novel, a charity ball takes place in the hotel’s ballroom, which was a great excuse to showcase the grandness of this particular setting, not to mention a few plot twists as well! The ball scene is one of my favourite scenes in the book! Because this scene is set on New Year’s Eve, I also couldn’t help but bring the fabulous Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks into the story.

One thing I love about Sydney is the department store window displays at Christmas time. As a child, my family would often spend a night in the city to wander around and look at the displays. I always found them so enchanting, and so I had to make mention of them as well! Click here to see some beautiful window displays!

At one point in the story, one of the characters is lucky enough to spend a week at a beautiful health retreat in a small beachside town, Tarrin’s Bay (again, fictional, but based on a real town). After almost a week of eating a vegan diet however, lover of fine food and wine, Miranda, escapes down to the local markets and indulges in a banana ice cream. This simple change of setting results in a major turning point occurring in her life, but I won’t give away what happens to her! This is also a favourite scene, as it is based on where I live, and I am writing more stories set in this beautiful beachside location and really bringing out the uniqueness of the setting.

Oh, and another setting used in the book is a hospital emergency room, where I put my poor character through a rather unfortunate incident involving a designer dress, morphine, and a pair of scissors! I’ll say no more!

…So how much do you think setting affects a story? Are there any books you’ve read that have really  brought about a strong visual picture in your mind of the location the characters are in?

What can we learn from Roger Hargreaves, creator of Mr Men & Little Miss books?

Happy Birthday to Roger Hargreaves; creator of the Mr Men and Little Miss series of children’s books!

As a child I loved these books, and as a mother I loved reading them to my child. The Mr Men and Little Miss series of books are a great example of books that stand the test of time. They are also a great example of ‘book branding’ – knowing exactly what type of books you write, how they are unique, and what recurring themes are present in your books. In this case, each book illustrates a dominant personality trait or feature that helps create the story within the book (eg: Mr Brave, Mr Chatterbox, Little Miss Bossy, Little Miss Late…etc). Each book stands alone but is linked to all the others through the title and theme.

Why is this branding or recurring theme important?

It helps readers identify the books, and if they have enjoyed one of your books, it provides a sense of expectation and anticipation about future books. For authors, it helps in the placing and promoting of your book in the market. Also, if you have something linking each of your books, it helps in coming up with new ideas, because there is already a starting point of some kind. These links might be in having similar titles, characters, themes, or locations. For example, an author’s book titles might all be from song lyrics, or a twist on a classic fairytale. I have also seen authors use letters of the alphabet, colours, seasons, and names as a way to define their books.

Other ways books can be linked include:

Characters might reappear in future books, or future books might focus on secondary characters from the previous books. Each book might involve different characters from the same town or location, or each book might address similar themes and life issues, such as family relationships, stories of revenge, or stories of women standing on their own two feet after a major life challenge.

The books I write in the genre of women’s fiction are all about new beginnings; a character, or characters, undergoing a major change that results in them starting a new life path. In addition, I am playing with the idea of using ‘different months of the year’ to link each of my books.

Can you think of any books out there that are a good example of branding and recurring themes? If you’re a writer, do you make an effort to include a link of some kind from one book to the other? (oh, and… which Mr Men or Little Miss character are you?) 🙂

~ Juliet, aka: Little Miss Busy, Late, Stubborn, Quick, and Fun all rolled into one!