I admire writers. I love the places they take us. A good writer can take us back in time, or hurl us into the future. We can explore places we’ve only dreamed of visiting, or revisit well-traveled paths that feel like home. It is always a strong voice that draws me to a book, but setting keeps me grounded in a character’s world—no matter how chaotic that world may be.
If a character is sea sick, I want to be sea sick with him. I want to feel the ocean spray on my face and know in my heart why he’s putting himself through a tumultuous boat ride. If a teen mother is gazing into the eyes of her infant to gather strength to care for him, I want to smell that child’s sweet breath and feel the love that mother has for her baby. If a teen is forced to move just as she is about to begin her senior year of high school, I want to see her school as she sees it the minute she pulls into the parking lot for the first time. A good writer doesn’t tell us about a time and place, she puts us there.
I have written three young adult novels—the first is awaiting revisions, the second is published, and the third is ready to go out into the world. Interestingly, they all take place in Western Maryland. I lived there for a short time, and I often wonder why my mind drifts back there when I write. Maybe there are things I left undone. Or, maybe I just miss Washington County. I used to walk along a scenic country road that dropped down to the Potomac River. I loved to walk on the canal and listen to the river sounds. I loved visiting Antietam Battlefield, Devil’s Backbone and City Park. So, I guess, the real challenge for me was not overusing the setting—especially in my third novel, Changing Colors. The setting is an important part of this novel because my main character’s life is in total disarray, and her visits to this area as a child hold special memories for her.
As an author, voice drives my writing. It is my characters that create the setting around them. They, in fact, let me know what they need to move the story forward. But, I can definitely get caught up in writing details that weigh my characters down to the point they all need to take a nap. Finding a balance that creates a setting that invites readers in but doesn’t overwhelm them is key.
I love this quote by Mark Twain – “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
I keep that quote around to remind me that readers can’t see a starry sky
if I’m too busy writing about the cloud cover. May all your stars shine bright!