Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Make Them Think You Live There: The Importance of Setting
Can your readers smell the food on the table and hear the sounds of the countryside? Setting is a critical feature of any novel, and should be another character; drawing the reader in and making them feel the rain on their face. One of the greatest challenges in writing Land of My Dreams, my debut contemporary Christian romance, was to make the reader feel as if they were in Scotland. This was no small undertaking, considering I have only spent two weeks there in my entire life.
In 2006, when my husband and I were preparing for a trip to Scotland, I began to gather information in order to see as much as possible. However, it wasn’t enough to make me an expert. Here are seven steps which helped me create a story world capable of convincing readers I had lived in Scotland:
First, if at all possible, travel to the place you’re writing about. When I went to Scotland, it never occurred to me that I would someday write a book about it. I kept a trip diary, and we took over 700 photographs, but only a few are of the area where the book takes place.
Second, learn cultural details, music, food, speech, history. I filled my iPod with Scottish folk tunes and classics and devoured tour books. Scotland is not northern England. It is a country with a rich and moving history of its own. And yes, I ate haggis.
Third, what is the weather like? Rain is a part of life. If Scots waited for the weather to clear, they would never do anything. Sunshine is as unique for them as rain is in my native New Mexico. Children played in the pouring rain wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts while I was bundled against the dreich weather, and hoping not to get drookit.
Fourth, learn something about how people talk. Basically, dreich is wet and rainy, and drookit is soaking wet. They use “Way In” instead of “Entrance,” and “Way Out” instead of “Exit.” When you order water the waiter will ask if you want “Still” or “Sparkling.” I was criticized for having male characters say it was a “lovely day,” but it is a common term for both men and women. There are websites of common Scottish/Gaelic names, slang, and phrases.
Fifth, I created a screen-saver of over 400 photos of the area where Land of My Dreams takes place. I have scenery, historical places, road signs, shop windows, and animals, almost anything that is a part of everyday life. If I need to describe something I look at the photos and then write and revise until it feels right.
Sixth, create similes and metaphors that compare and contrast things familiar to your audience with things that are commonplace to the characters. For example, Kieran is drawn to Bonny “like a bee to heather.”
Last, find someone who has lived there. I offered a $75 Amazon card on the Romance Loop of ACFW for someone to edit for Scottish content. Contemporary must be as accurate as or more so than historical because people can go there and see if what you said is true.
Efforts to make your story world appealing, realistic, and mood-setting will be worth all the research that goes into creating it. When someone reads Land of My Dreams, I want them to smell the New Mexico chile roasting and hear the skirl of bagpipes.
© Copyright by Norma Gail Thurston Holtman, October 10, 2014
About the author:
Norma Gail’s debut contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, set in Scotland and New Mexico released in April 2014. She has led weekly women’s Bible studies for 19 years. Her devotionals, poetry have appeared at ChristianDevotions.us, the Stitches Thru Time blog, and in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, FaithWriters, and the New Mexico Christian Novelists. She is a former RN who lives in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband of 38 years. They have two adult children.
You connect with Norma at:
Land of My Dreams is available at: