Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Romantic Settings

How important is the setting of a romance? Setting is central to historical romances, but I think it’s almost as important to the story as character development in contemporary romance. Our surroundings reflect who we are, and contrasting a character against the setting helps define her or him. I know setting is vital in my Choices series.

In Recalculating Route, Marsha and Ben are on a journey of discovery, both literally and figuratively. After thirty years of marriage, Marsha and her husband had great plans for retirement, but he died, and Marsha finds herself struggling in unfamiliar territory. Ben, too, is reassessing his life, after selling his company. The two come together on a road trip, and as they explore and discover America, they learn about each other, and about themselves. Just as Seattle and Sedona can be so different, and yet both so beautiful, so can different people inspire love. 

Shades of Sedona would be a different story elsewhere. Rebecca would still be Rebecca, but if she were in a Kansas town the same size as Sedona, she wouldn’t be building her Spanish house, photographing the fantastic rock formations, or bumping into wealthy single men. Not that there is anything wrong with small towns in Kansas - they have their own charm as a setting for a different type of story. 

In  Last Flight from Flagstaff, Donna visits Flagstaff to help the daughter of a friend and falls in love with the town. I’m from Anchorage, but my daughter attended college in Flagstaff, and some of Donna’s discoveries mirrored my own as I visited Flagstaff for the first time. In fact, my husband and I plan to start living part-time in Arizona. I hope the book captures some of the special feel of that place. 

While it’s important not to let the setting overpower the story, the setting gives it the sense of reality, of being in a real place, even if the place is imaginary. Reading a book can almost be like taking a vacation, a chance to experience a place and a life that’s different from our own.  If I’m traveling some place I’ve never been, I try to find a story to read on the plane that takes place in that city. It’s fun to visit a landmark and feel as though I’ve seen it before, through someone else’s eyes.

Characters are central to a romance and plot is crucial, but remember the setting. As a lovely ring makes a diamond more beautiful, the setting of a romance can make it something truly special.

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