I watched a movie last night that made a real impression on me. It was called “Saving Grace”, a British film set in a little town on the coast of Cornwall. What impressed me most about the movie (which on its own was very entertaining and made me laugh and cry), was that the town has become a character to me all on its own.
You see, I’ve been watching the British television series “Doc Martin” with my husband over the past few weeks. I’m so addicted to this show if I can’t watch at least one episode of it a day, I feel out of sorts. Last night my husband was on a Boy Scout campout and had forbidden me to watch “Doc” without him, so I decided to rent the movie the series had grown out of instead. I wasn’t sure I’d like it because, although some of the same actors are in it, they play totally different characters. None of the characters are the same.
Except the setting.
I’m not sure if they called the town by the same name, but it looked the same. The narrow curvy streets, the quaint cliffside architecture, the harbor clogged with fishing boats. Every time they showed the town, I felt a little happier and I knew it was because I recognized it. The town itself has become important to me, as if it’s a friend I visit when I watch the show. The setting of the story has become a character to me.
Setting is important to any story, of course. For the most part, you can’t let your characters carry on their story against a blank backdrop. City or small town, apartment or house, they need to be put somewhere. The question I’ve been asking myself ever since realizing the little town in “Doc Martin” had become so important to me is, “Can I do that in my stories? Is it possible?”
I think I’ve answered it. It is possible, because some authors have already done it. Think about Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta. Didn’t you mourn the burning of Atlanta almost as much as her characters did? She must have really loved that city. Other settings I love as much as the characters in books: Hogwarts (Harry Potter), Prince Edward Island (Anne of Green Gables), and Bath, England (Jane Austen). In fact, if I look back on the books I’ve loved most, part of what I loved—usually a large part—was the setting. The authors not only provided a backdrop for their characters, they created living worlds.
Have I achieved this in any of my books? I don’t think so. Maybe I came a little bit close with Weeds and Flowers? Possibly. The setting of that book was the most important of any story I’ve told yet. I’m writing another one now set in my hometown of Brevard, N.C. It’s the first time I’ve tried it since W&F. Maybe the key is to love the setting as much as you love your characters, to let the setting influence the story and your characters. I look forward to exploring it further.
In the meantime, check out my guest blog on All I Want and More today for some background into the inspiration for Where the Heart Lies and an excerpt from the book. Leave me a comment for a chance to win fabulous prizes!