The question of what comes first, character or plot is often posed. However, for me, settings are just as, if not more, important.
I start with a pen portrait of my characters, but putting them in a particular environment really helps to stimulate my imagination so that I can develop them more fully. Setting defines the context within which the characters behave and creates an instant atmosphere. The culture, the scenery, the architecture, the people, the climate all play their part in building a mood, influencing what the characters do and hence plot.
For example, imagine a scene set in wild, rugged countryside and one set in Venice. Both are romantic , but the atmospheres they evoke are totally different and the way characters behave will differ accordingly.
I tend to write about places that I know and with which I feel a strong emotional attachment. If I can visualise a place, feel it around me, absorb its ambience, then put my characters there, it seems to kickstart my imagination and the plot follows.
In The Path of Innocence I used London suburbia, East Anglia and St Andrews in Scotland as the settings. The suburbs of London are neither sexy nor romantic, yet the very ordinariness serves a purpose in painting a portrait of a heroine with strong, parochial family values. It also sharpens the contrast with the hero who comes from an inherently more enigmatic, rural area with chocolate-box villages and large country estates. The setting of Fiona’s small, cosy suburban house compared to Roger’s large, cold, country manor fills in a lot of unspoken information about the background of the characters and we instantly know that one is the antithesis of each other.
Scotland is more readily identifiable as a romantic setting and this description of Crail Harbour taken from The Path of Innocence is the perfect setting for falling in love:
She listened to the soothing sounds of waves lapping gently against the old stone harbour walls extending like protective arms around a cluster of small fishing boats, and she swallowed a deep lungful of air so fresh that you could taste its purity. Squinting against the sunshine, now brilliant in the clear, blue sky, her gaze spun over the red-roofed cottages which crowded down to the water’s edge, some whitewashed, others the warm, natural shades of sandstone, grey flints, green and blues, all huddled together in a kaleidoscope of colours.
I do not generally write long descriptions and often a few details might be enough to give the reader a flavour of the scene, but in my mind I will have a very clear picture of where they are at.
Some places, like Italy, which happens to be the setting for my work in progress, are inherently romantic. Others that have inspired me to write include Normandy in France and Snowdonia in Wales, the former possessing a quiet charm and a certain sense of timelessness, whereas the latter with its wild, rugged mountains and fast running rivers provides a more dramatic backdrop. What happens and how the characters behave is influenced greatly by where they are.
Megan lives in the Essex countryside, UK. She is married with one grown-up daughter and an adorable, but mischievous Cavalier King Charles.
You can find out more about her on www.megan-johns.com. To read an extract from 'The Path of Innocence' go to www.devinedestinies.com.