Today, I'm happy to share a great, informative post from Blythe Gifford, a dear friend and fellow member of Chicago-North RWA - Morgan Mandel
After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line. Since then, she has published eight romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.
THE WITCH FINDER, her first self-published book, is now available for Amazon kindle at
Setting: Your most important decision by Blythe Gifford
For a number of years, I’ve been part of a blog called “Unusual Historicals.” While the authors and books can be called “unusual” in a number of different ways, the chief way in which the books deserve the title is because they take place in times and/or places outside the norm for historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
While many writers think of setting as merely the description of the place that is the backdrop of the story, I contend that setting, (where and when the story takes place) is perhaps the single most fundamental decision an author makes. Why? Here are five reasons. See if you agree.
1. Setting is a marketing decision. A story’s setting determines who is likely to publish and read it. Contemporary or historical, science fiction or urban fantasy, urban or rural, each of these opens one door and closes another. I write historical romance, which means that readers who “don’t like history” or “only read paranormal” won’t pick up my book. It also means that publishing houses that focus on certain types of stories won’t publish mine, no matter how good it may be.
2. Setting is a creative decision. Despite the fact that Regency England (early 1800’s) is the single most popular period for historical romance, I do not write Regency romance. (That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading it.) The time period does not speak to my creative imagination, so to force myself to search for a story here would serve neither my muse nor my readers. I accept that the decision means I may have a longer road to collecting my readers. (See point one above.) Certain settings will draw you as an author. Consider that part of your voice.
3. Setting dictates story. Is your character at home or away from home? In a situation s/he loves or one s/he hates? Somewhere s/he wants to stay or from which s/he longs to escape? The setting you choose symbolizes your character’s situation and your character’s reaction to that situation will propel the story. While my Brunson trilogy focused on two brothers and a sister, each of the siblings (and their stories) had a very different relationship to the story’s setting. In RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, the youngest son comes home for the first time in years, a place he does NOT want to be. In CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, the daughter leaves home to go to court, a place where she is a “fish out of water.” TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL takes place at home, where the oldest son has lived his whole life and where he must come to terms with the fact that he is now the head of the family. This makes each a very different story, although the same family is front and center throughout.
4. Setting creates character. Here, I’m not talking about the setting of the story, but of the backstory, the time and place that shaped the character. Did s/he grow up during wartime or peacetime? In the midst of plague or prosperity? On the Western plains where being a loner is prized or perhaps as a nobleman surrounded by servants to cater to his whims? Even contemporary or fantasy books must ask these questions. Conventional wisdom says that character is largely determined by the age of ten. Be sure you know what shaped your character’s early years. I’ve written many stories set during the fourteenth century and I must always begin by asking what happened to my character’s family when the Black Death rolled across the land.
5. Setting creates reader expectations. Setting a story in New York or Paris? Even if the reader has never been there, s/he has seen the city depicted on the screen and thinks s/he knows something about it. Be aware of the connotations of your setting. They can shortcut some of the heavy lifting of scene setting. Or, if you plan to play against type (e.g. set a sweet love story in the gritty city), be cognizant of your task. Remember: connotations can change over time. A story set in New Orleans today automatically means something vastly different than it did in the pre-Katrina days. And if you are writing about a futuristic, dystopian society, your reader may expect a book targeted to young adults, even if that is not your intention. And if your setting is unfamiliar? Well, that makes it hard for the reader to know what to expect!
My newest book, THE WITCH FINDER, is now available. It's again set in an unusual time and place: the Scottish Borders of the mid-seventeenth century. It takes place amidst the most deadly wave of witch hunts in Scotland’s history, immediately after the end of the short-lived Commonwealth and the restoration of a king to the throne of Scotland. Turmoil and uncertainty have swirled about the country for years. But the story is set in an isolated village near the hills, far from the urban centers. Here’s a bit more about it:
He's a haunted man.
Alexander Kincaid watched his mother die, the victim, they said, of a witch's curse. So he has dedicated his life to battling evil. But in this small, Scottish village, he confronts a woman who challenges everything he believes. She may be more dangerous than a witch, because she's a woman who threatens his heart.
She's a hunted woman.
They called her mother a witch, but she was only a woman made mad by witch hunters like Alexander Kincaid. Having escaped to the Border hills, Margret Reid is seeking a safe haven and a place to hide. But when the witch hunter arrives, not only is her heart in danger.
So is her life.
Catch The Witch Under at Amazon for Kindle at
I hope I’ve sparked some reasons for you to put setting at the top of your list as you consider your writing. So, what is the setting of your current work in progress?
For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com, like her at www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford, or follow her at www.twitter.com/BlytheGifford or www.pinterest.com/BlytheGifford.
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