For me the setting of any book if it’s pivotal to the story becomes a character in the story. The reader has to be able to see the setting in the same way they vision the characters. This means giving enough description to convey a frame work for that character/setting without being to prescriptive and depriving the reader of the fun of having their own vision of what the person/place looks like.
When it comes to settings for my first three books given they’re science fiction the sky’s the limit (literally in some cases). You can let your imagination go wild and in many cases the wilder the better as long as you can convey something tangible to the reader. The trick being to give them enough for them to form a picture in their minds that hopefully wows them while at the same time it’s one that works in the context of the story.
With my latest book, Inspector Kirby and Harold Longcoat, A Northumbrian Mystery (and the two follow-ups nearing completion) the challenge is different and in many ways harder. For the first time I’m dealing with places that exist (mostly!). Set in Newcastle and Northumberland these are settings some people will know well, so I need to be true to them. Even if the reader doesn’t know them they can always look them up on-line. In this case I need to give a correct impression, again while leaving the reader of the fun of forming their own picture, whether that’s from memory or pure imagination. After all I’m not writing a tour guide.
What it’s taught me, which I think is a valuable lesson is to see these (sometimes iconic settings) through the eyes of my characters, to concentrate more on their reactions to them. They may be places they know well or in the case of my books, thought they knew well and are now seeing them in a very different light. In doing so I try to describe the emotions and feelings it stirs in them. Also how it impacts on their memories and feelings they associate with a place. The fun for me, is that those feelings and emotions will echo my own as many of these are places, locations I also know well. With one such building Kirby describes it as “looking like a Victorian railway station”, which is how as a student it always struck me. I hope , to anyone who reads these books those feeling, often of great fondness come through in the writing and even in a few cases leads to a desire to visit a part of England that means so much to me.
So now when I read good fiction I see how a few well-chosen words can form a substantial picture of a character or a place. Evoking the emotion and feel of setting is as important as describing its physical characteristics. Something for me to continue to work on.
As always comments are welcome,