Sunday, February 04, 2007
What's With the Snow?
This past week we experienced something here in northern Alabama that doesn't happen very often. Snow!!!!
We tend to go a little crazy around here when this phenomenon occurs. Many northerners laugh because a forecast for less than two inches can send us to the grocery store to empty the milk and bread aisles (not to mention the potato chips, oddly enough). Most all the schools and businesses close, or at least open late. It's crazy, I know, but I enjoy the craziness because it adds to the sense of excitement.
Have you ever noticed how real life weather or scenery can add a certain emotion to the day? Or contrast to an important life event? The day I married my husband was a stifling, hot Southern July day. But as soon as the ceremony finished, a huge thunderstorm blew in and rained buckets on the church. It was so unexpected that we didn't even notice that the interior had darkened considerably so that some of our wedding pictures didn't turn out.
Now, a thunderstorm completely contrasted with the joy and hope that day represents to me. But an older lady told me that wedding days marked by thunderstorms are actually considered to be blessed, capable of weathering anything to last through the ages. Personally, I have to agree.
This nostalgic trip down weather lane does actually have a purpose. :) The characters and events in our books don't occur in a void, though if you read my first drafts you'd think they did. Oh, and that my characters were all naked too. Setting is one of the things I go back and layer into my books, because during the first round I'm concentrating on recording the story as it rushes through me. I don't want to miss anything. I can add the extraneous stuff later.
For other authors, I'm sure setting is one of their strengths. They use it as it occurs in real life, as the backdrop to the dramas, a contrast or enhancement to events, or obstacle in their characters' paths.
I had the privilege of reading one of these authors this week. I read the Mistress of Trevelyan by Jennifer St. Giles. This was her first book, published in 2004, a gothic historical set in San Francisco in 1873. Now I can't wait to read her others! I grew up reading gothic romances from our local library all through my teenage years and loved them. This story has all the traditional elements, down to the governness heroine and mysterious master hero. (But don't make the mistake of thinking this storyline is cliche. Far from it!) Most of all, it is set in a dark, gothic mansion surrounded by frequent fog. That's right, fog.
St. Giles doesn't just have her characters look outside and notice fog. What would be the fun in that? Instead the weather almost serves as an additional character in the book. The fog might serve to heighten tension, add mystery, cloak the unexpected. Sometimes the fog disippates, leaving behind a beautiful day for exploring, horseback riding, or seeking out answers to mysterious clues. There's even a day that starts off great for the heroine and she expects nice weather, but when they get outside, there are dark, dangerous storm clouds on the horizon.
Another interesting piece of the setting is a stained glass window in the entryway of the manor house. Light shines through the glass to fill the air with colors, representing hope for the family within just as much as the fog represents the secrets they keep.
After reading this book, I'm encouraged to pay more attention to the settings in my own and how my characters interact with their surroundings. I think a skillfully created location, weather, house, etc., will only deepen the story and the characters, pushing the book that much closer to being a "keeper."
What books have you read with delicious, interesting settings? How do you make your settings come alive in a book without overpowering the story?