Thursday, June 04, 2009

Setting: The Watery Breath of a Story

Forth Bridges, Edinburgh-LK Hunsaker


"Water is the driving force of all nature."
Leonardo da Vinci


As water is the underlying basis for everything that lives, so setting is to every story that breathes.


Everything has to happen somewhere.


How do authors choose where their stories will happen? ~shrug~ I can't speak for others, as we all have our different reasons for sticking our characters wherever we stick them. Generally, it's love: the love of history or love of a certain place we visited or love of the unknown. With me, it tends to be a mix of all three.


By now, I've lived in six states and two countries and have traveled* a lot in between. [side note below] I've also taken an incredible cultural psychology class that further emphasized how we are affected by where we live. In the words of Anais Nin, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." Setting is not only a place; it's character. It's part of who our characters are and novelists who ignore that are missing a huge chance to fill in the depths of the story.


Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, was born of the sea.


In my first-to-publish novel, Finishing Touches, Jenna is a small town Midwest girl raised nearly on the banks of the Illinois River. The river and trees surrounding it play a large part of her story, the trees being symbolic of her inner strength and deep roots and the river of her unbound soul that flows along where life takes her. There's also the little bridge mentioned that she crosses over, pausing to look down into the shallow creek. A bridge is a metaphor for crossing a boundary, for change, or for pulling the two different parts of her life together. In Illinois River-LK Hunsakeraddition to the structural "place" of the story, being from the Midwest helps make Jenna who she is. As each country has its unique qualities that help define its people, so do different sections of countries. As a small town girl raised in the Midwest myself, I fully understand Jenna and have a special love for the people who tend to be very earthy and natural, and rather conservative in actions and speech. Although the story is not autobiographical, other than the searching issue, the setting is. My first novel has the most involved setting; it's the most interwoven with the main character.


When I first started writing the Rehearsal series in notes and scattered scenes and character development, I was still in that small Illinois town, but my thoughts were always wandering elsewhere. I wanted to go out and see new things, explore new places. I couldn't do it often at that time, but my characters did. As a result, they are more worldly than Jenna, all transplanted from the beginning of the story which makes the setting less woven into their characters. Two are from Pennsylvania, three from New Hampshire, one from the UK. The story is set in Massachusetts, roughly thirty miles from Boston. However, it takes them out of their adopted town often, into other places, a metaphor for my own wanderlust.

Each of us "belongs" in a certain place. It may not be where we were raised. There may be some other place that calls out to us and helps us feel more settled once we're there. For me, that place was temporarily the Northeast and permanently the Mid-Atlantic. We lived in Massachusetts for some time and I adored the area, was sad to have to leave. At the same time, when we passed through Pennsylvania to go back to visit family in Illinois, it called to me, as it had during family vacations when I was young. And so, my two main characters from Rehearsal, Evan and Susie, had to be from Pennsylvania. I set them in the eastern part of the state so it Greenville, PA -LK Hunsaker would work better with the story, but put Evan's alma mater on the western edge. When putting him there, I never in the world expected to end up living so close to it.


My New Hampshire characters are supporting cast. I wanted them transplanted instead of being Massachusetts locals in order to give them that extra edge. Their personalities aren't MA personalities. It wouldn't have worked. I have yet to visit New Hampshire, so if anyone from the state wants to comment on whether they fit, I'd love to hear it! Of course, you'd have to read the book to find out. ;-)


"It is a curious sensation: the sort of pain that goes mercifully beyond our powers of feeling. When your heart is broken, your boats are burned: nothing matters any more. It is the end of happiness and the beginning of peace."
George Bernard Shaw


My next-to-come book, Off The Moon (fall 2009), has two main settings: New York City and Bennington, Vermont. The main character is heavily in the music industry and so it worked well to have him in the midst of one of the music centers of the nation. His family is in Vermont, which worked in different ways: it's a short enough drive from NYC so he's able to run back and forth easily, it's another place I've yet to visit (love of the unknown), and it has a wonderful lake setting that's important to the story since he adores boats and owns a pontoon he uses to escape his busy city life. With any luck, I'll be visiting the area before putting the final touches on the book. However, he grew up a military brat, so for him, place is very fluid and the lack of deep roots shows through his personality and his actions.


If you haven't figured it out yet, water plays a big role in all of my stories. I'm drawn to lakes, rivers, oceans, and even small trickling streams. I love to swim. I love to watch and photograph waterfalls. I love to be on boats of any kind. I think it's unlikely I'll write a book without this feature, as it's too embedded into who I am.


"My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine.
(Fortunately) everybody drinks water."

Mark Twain


I'm currently in process of adding photos of some of the settings in my books to albums on my website. So far, I have the Finishing Touches album done and most of those photos were taken by family members. More setting albums will come soon.


***  This entry is part of Classic Romance Revival's Blog Carnival. Go to CRR to find more authors writing on the subject of setting! ***

“The Truth is you are a part and parcel of the great being. You are one of the cells of the Great Being, you can call it. And once a drop falls into a ocean, it becomes an ocean. And once you become the ocean, you see the whole world in a different way, and understand the whole world as a beautiful place of enjoyment.”

Carl Gustav Jung

Eagles Nest at Shenango Lake, PA -LK Hunsaker

[side note: For those who have read the Rehearsal books, yes, I spell traveled as "travelled" in the series intentionally. There are two reasons for this: back when I was in grade school studying spelling lessons, many of the consonants were still doubled as they tend to be in British English, including travelled. I well remember when that started to change and balked at the idea. I don't always do change well. And I like the way the world looks better with two "L"s instead of one. As this series started to come to life way back during my school days in the 70s, I left it "travelled" as it was still spelled then. Also, much of the series is set in the 70s and so it's appropriate to use the spelling of the time. There's also the third main character who is from the UK and so would also spell it in that manner. Other than in the series, I sigh and conform and drop the extra letter.]





lainey bancroft said...

What a very cool idea to make a photo album for your books, LK!

And I'll definitely be watching for 'Off the Moon' the DH and I had a wonderful vacation in Bennington Vermont a couple years ago and met some terrific people (waves Jerry and Mary Lou) =)

Kathleen O said...

Great blog LK. I like that you took a course in cultural phychology. I will have to ask my niece it she had taken a course like this in her socialology degree...

Unknown said...

I love your blog today and water is so calming to me. I loved the pics you had on your blog.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Beautiful blog, LK! I agree about the power and magic of water. Lovely photos, too!

Jacquie Rogers said...

It's interesting how we find certain features of setting draw us into a story. Water is interesting because it is the beginning of all life; therefore, also of all stories. Never quite thought of it that way before.

Thanks for writing such a fascinating article.

She said...

Water as a setting makes me think of the possibilities in a character's life. That character can get on the water and travel a distance by boat or raft or just float lazily down the stream for a short afternoon of fun and play. It's like an airplane. Where would I go if I were on it? The distinations are endless. Some are exotic and some are mundane but all are ripe with possibilities that could change my life.

Maggi Andersen said...

Water is important to us in so many ways, we are made up mostly of water! The Australian Aborigines have sixteen different words for water, because Australia is such a dry country.
Enjoyed your blog,

Martha Eskuchen said...

LK - what an interesting blog and I love the quotes! It is neat that you incorporate the water in your books. And yes, it makes sense that setting is part of who the characters are!

DanielleThorne said...

I know what you mean about places calling out to you--places you may not have been or just passed through. I have experienced that in my life and I continue to. It still brings me wonder and joy. Truly the earth is our home and we all share it together.

Monya Clayton said...

LK - Your blog entry is intelligent and explanatory.

I think the question writers are most often asked is "where do you get your ideas". I never find a satisfactoy answer, because the germ of an idea can be very small and grow, even change, over time. But I do know that the idea comes complete - story, characters, setting. I'd find it difficult, personally, to change a setting. It is totally intrinsic to the tale.

And I enjoyed your para about the double consonants! I'm Australian and we still use them, and you're right, they do look better.

Happy writing,

Unknown said...

I love bodies of water, especially the ocean. When I was younger, we always spent summers at the beach. I love waterfalls, too. As noted on another post in this carnival blog tour, the setting is a character all its own. Some authors put it to good use, others don't. It can really make a difference to the story.

Linda Banche said...

Beautiful pictures. And a water setting will produce a different story than one set on land. And I like water because I like ducks!

Babyblue22 said...

Hi LK!!
What a deep and beautiful post, Great Pictures and Quotes!
I love the water, and I think it's cool how you incorperate your love of water into your stories and characters.

Anonymous said...

LK, a great post! That first sentence...

*As water is the underlying basis for everything that lives, so setting is to every story that breathes.*

...explains your premise so well.

Also, Mark Twain's quote...I love it! Thank you for a very enjoyable blog. I would have to say that your settings are a strong mix of Simply Scenic and 'Specially Significant.

Hywela Lyn said...

Lovely post, and beautiful photos, LK. I love water too, probably because I lived near the sea and rivers in Wales for most of my life.
What a great idea to make a photo album for your settings, too.

Oh, and being a'Brit' I can fully empathise with your use of double consonants!

LK Hunsaker said...

Thank you for all the great comments so far! It's wonderful that water is so important mentally to so many of us.

Anonymous said...

Off the Moon sounds interesting. Looking forward to its release.

I loved the quotes you shared here. I love bodies of water too. Beaches, Lakes, streams, waterfalls, are all so majestic to me and soothing.

Pam S

E.A. West said...

Isn't it amazing how the place a person is raised affects him in ways he likely doesn't even notice? The subtle (and not so subtle) differences in people from various regions make the world a much richer place.


Different people from different places make a story interesting.

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