The best compliment I ever received came from a friend’s next door neighbor. She raced from her house one day, book in hand, and called out, “You gotta read this book.” The book she was waving was my first published book, Zoned for Murder. She went on to tell my how she thought it was a first book by “this writer” and then said, “I really liked it, and you’d swear the story is set in this town.”
I couldn’t help myself, I asked her if she wanted me to autograph it. She took a step backward and gave me that…hum, do you need confinement look, then she said, “Your name isn’t Kait Carson.” I pulled a bookmark from the stash I carry in my handbag, autographed the book, and then took her on a sightseeing tour of familiar locations. She was right. The book was set in our town and the places in our town helped drive the action of the book.
Setting is almost as important as characterization. Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist against a backdrop and that backdrop becomes a character as well. My stories take place in South Florida. Hurricanes and tropical storms make occasional appearances. Gator gushers flood streets. Heat devils shimmer on roadways. The air always tastes ever so slightly of salt. Homes and stores are tropical in color, in the Keys, they’re built on stilts. In Miami, you can determine the age of a house by its appearance, and sometimes, not always for the better. Streets disappear into a riot of color at certain times of the year when the royal poinciana trees, tabebuia, and orchid trees burst into bloom. In early spring, the air carries the scent of flowering citrus.
Those details all bring the reader into the story. They set the story and characters apart and done well, create a shorthand between reader and story that serves as an anchor for the characters. When I’m reading, I expect the writer to develop a sense of place. When I’m writing, I try to do the same for my readers.
What about you? Do you want to know where the stories you read take place? Does the setting make a difference?