Beyond Sense of Place

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by Gail Gaymer Martin

Setting should be more than sense of place. It can add deeper meaning to your story by reflecting the theme or mood. It can enhance the plot with situations built into the setting that can foreshadow situations or problems. It can influence the character’s emotions and actions.

When you begin your novel, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What setting can stimulate the character’s action to grow and change?
  2. Does the setting provide elements that can affect the character’s personality?
  3. Does the setting offer events or elements that can add interest or excitement to the story?
  4. Would the plot be different in a different setting?
  5. Does the setting heighten the emotion or provide a hook?

If you can say yes to most of these questions, you’re on the right track. Otherwise, you need to think the story through and change the setting. For example, logic says some plots work better in an urban area rather than rural, some need a small town rather than a metropolis, some need a rugged background. One thing we know is that if we are using a real town, we need to do tons of research to bring the town to life and make it real.

Recently my husband and I moved from Michigan to Sedona. We had rented there for the winter months the last six years and fell in love with the place. The amazing rocks draw thousands of visitors since the wind and rain carved these rocks into amazing formations and they are given names, such as: Bell Rock, Castle Rock, Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, Madonna and the Three Kings, and even Snoopy. The beauty has also brought about an artists colony of painters, sculptures, jewelry makers and writers.

Since I like to write real, many of my novels were set in Michigan, places I knew. Now, I wanted to set a novel in this amazing place which resulted in my recent book, Lost in Red Rock Country. In it, you can find examples of the points above. The red rocks are great for hiking but hiking can be dangerous since the paths are rugged and often on the edge of the rocks with a steep drop. The rocks are also vast so getting lost is another fear. But if you take a woman who prides herself with her independence and put her in this setting, you can create scenes that foreshadows danger and excitement, and also can stimulate the growth of characters when faced with the truth they aren’t willing to accept.

The rocky setting is need to encourage the heroine to climb or hike, and results in the hero  meeting her in that lonely place when he warns her about hiking alone, a foreshadow. The woman, raised by a mother who moved to Sedona to express her freedom, would not be questioning her worth, and the hero’s lifestyle would not pull her away from him. The setting in this book creates a multitude of situations that allow the characters to learn and grow.

So remember as you plan your next novel, avoid putting the story just anywhere, but think through the chance to enhance the story and the characters with an intriguing setting.


Multi-award-winner and bestselling novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin has 78 published novels with over 4 million books sold. She is the author of Writers Digest, Writing the Christian Romance and is a presenter at writing workshop and keynote speaker at a variety of women’s event. You can find Lost In Red Rock Country at worked as a counselor and later a university instructor in Michigan. She now lives in Sedona, Arizona.




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