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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Setting Your Story

When I set out to write Forget-Me-Not, a contemporary romantic suspense, one of the first decisions I made was setting. The common wisdom is, "Write what you know." No offense to my home state of Indiana, but it's doesn't exactly have that aura of mystery and danger that a romantic suspense needs! When I considered the various places I've lived in or spent time in, one immediately came to mind: northern Minnesota, otherwise known as the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area).

The BWCA offers a lot to a suspense writer looking for a spooky locale. First off, the landscape is stunning, and is as beautiful as it is mysterious. The BWCA is dominated by two colors: blue waters and green trees. Second, anyone who has ever fallen asleep in the BWCA listening to the cries of the loons echoing over a lake knows that it can be one isolated, spooky place. Third, it's remote: The "Boundary" part of the name refers to the US/Canadian border. There are no large cities are nearby, and motorized vehicles are banned in the BWCA. If you want to travel in the BWCA, you'll do it by paddle power. No hopping in the car and speeding out of danger.

In addition, one of the hardest things about writing suspense these days is how interconnected (and wired up) we are all. How can you put a character in danger for a long period of time if she's got her GPS-enabled smart phone on hand at all times? Well, that smart phone won't work out in the boonies of the BWCA, so problem solved.

That led me to what kind of a heroine I needed. A local? Maybe, but I thought a fish-out-of-water story sounded more interesting. That led me to the idea of someone who was running from something, or someone. Enter Lara Crosby, who moves to the remote cabin her grandfather left her when her high-powered career as a political fundraiser goes south. Determined to make it as a freelance writer and put her troubles behind her, she's stunned when a stranger crashes his SUV in her front drive during a severe storm. The stranger, Jacob Sumner, appears to have followed her from Chicago, but why? Jacob can't explain it: He's suffered a head injury during the car accident and is now suffering from amnesia. Shortly thereafter, someone makes an attempt on their lives. But who is the real target, Jacob or Lara, and why? And is it related to why Jacob has apparently come in search of Lara?

When you choose a setting first, it can help shape your story. A place often shapes the natures of the people who live there. In this case, the sanctuary-like nature of the setting drew a person to relocate there. As it turned out, she wasn't able to hide from her past after all: It caught up with her. Finding a way to bring her past life back to haunt her in this remote location drove the story of Forget-Me-Not.

Buy Forget-Me-Not in paperback or ebook at the Wild Rose Press

Linda Morris has been making up stories for years. She's excited to finally get the opportunity to get paid for it. When not writing romance, she can be found at her day job as a freelance editor/writer of technical books. Her loves include Jane Austen, Mexican food, jazz, and old movies. She lives in central Indiana with her husband and young son.


Donna L Bolk said...

Hi Linda,

I have always thought of setting as a main character. It provides mood, sense of place, sometimes it even provides character motivation.

Alison H. said...

Hi Linda! Every post I read about this story makes me want to read it more. It's currently two books down on my TBR list. I believe a strong sense of place is essential to any story, in any genre. In suspense, it can really work overtime.

Linda Morris, Romance writer said...

Thanks for the kind words. I'm with you guys on setting, obviously. I think it's essential, and I'm always a little disappointed when a story has so little sense of place that it could take place almost anywhere. It somehow makes the story a little generic even if it's otherwise well written.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Linda, I love this insight as to how you used the setting to add to the plot and help shape your characters. The book sounds great!

Anonymous said...

Linda, your words about setting and sense of place are so true. One of the things beginning writers have a problem with. To my mind setting should always be an additional character in any story. Great post.