Thursday, July 27, 2006

Are Settings Sexy?

Okay everyone, I'm in party mode. Just slipped into a glam party frock, spangly sandals, done the make-up thing and I'm ready!
(Can you tell I'm a mum of a toddler and don't get out much?)

For those who don't know me, I'm a physiotherapist-turned-author writing for Harlequin Romance and Modern Extra and loving every minute of my dream job.

I love creating characters, adore snappy dialogue and the whole rush of plotting a new book, which brings me to what I'd like to chat about: settings.

The last few books I've sold have all been set in my gorgeous home city Melbourne, highlighting cosmopolitan suburbs such as St. Kilda (home of the most scrumptious cakes on the planet!), Fitzroy (boho mecca) and Carlton (the city's 'little Italy' with pasta and gelati to die for!)

In my upcoming releases FOUND: HIS FAMILY(Romance), BIG-SHOT BACHELOR (ModX) and PRINCESS AUSTRALIA(Romance) I deliberately set out to capture and bring alive the incredible vibe of these suburbs, hoping to give readers a glimpse of what it's like to live in Melbourne.

An added bonus of using real settings? The fabulous research! Though if I sample just one more of those yummy cakes, this party frock won't fit next time around!!

Ironically, in my upcoming Romance release WIFE AND MOTHER WANTED (North America, August) I went for a fictitious setting, a town named Stockton a few hours out of Sydney.

I needed a small town feel for Carissa, fairy-shop owner, and Brody, the single dad fleeing his demons.

Guess what? I recently had an email from an author saying that Stockton does exist and it's a few hours north of Sydney! My setting was entirely coincidental, named after an old uni friend I bumped into at the time of writing the book. Maybe I'm more hooked on settings than I thought, conjuring up real life places without knowing it!

Are settings important to you? What's your favourite setting, the place that transports you into the pages of a book? Or do the characters of a book do it for you more than the setting?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

Nicola
http://www.nicolamarsh.com/
http://www.nicolamarsh.blogspot.com/

89 comments:

bluecitybabe said...

Settings are important, as I often find that they are very indicative of the characters and their relationships. Although I do like the small town settings, my favourites are usually the ones set on a private Greek island or a small castle in the Italian hills. I tend to find the heros in such stories are real softies underneath their tough exteriors.And I do like that in a hero.

Jodi said...

Characters do it more for me than settings. I like the feel of interacting with the characters. But, I like to have an overall picture of where the story is taking place. I think it helps tie the whole story together

Brandy said...

Both settings and character are important. It's one thing to connect with the character, but if you can't visualize the the setting, well.....the book just won't jell.

readingissomuchfun said...

Hello Nicola,

Your book sounds good:) Congrad's on your new upcoming release.

Wow I am glad to see I am not the only one up *G*

Actually settings don't matter to me. I love a good plot. As long as the book has a good plot I will read it. I also enjoy getting to know more about the characters more then settings.
I love a good story that will keep me up all night wanting to read.

HUGSSSS
Linda.H.

Cherie said...

Well, I read a lot of fantasy and historical so settings are important for contemporaries the setting is not as important. It never hurts to really feel like you in the place that the book is set in though.

~Cherie K~

allyblake said...

Hey Nic!!!!!

I am another Melbourne gal and Nic and I have often discussed this very subject.

For I loooove settings. Adore them. Love making them an important part of the story. A book set in a small town will be different from one set in a big city. a heroine who lives in a lighthouse on a windy bluff will be a different character type from one who lives on the fourtieth floor of an apartment building.

And the number of times I get letter from readers asking about the setting of my books is amazing. I mostly get asked if the French pastry shops on Acland Street in St Kilda are real. (And yes, gals, they are!) You'll have to check out Nic's "Found His Family" in august, or even my "Wanted: Outback Wife" in October to see why many more books ought to be set there!!!

Great subject Nic! and happy blogging everyone...

Ally
(far away from RWA all the way Down Under)
http://www.allyblake.com

Minna said...

Sure they are. My favorite setting is tropical island (especially when it's winter here).

Annie West said...

Hi Nic - what a great topic. I knew you were using Melbourne as your setting but I hadn't realised how seriously you were researching those cake and gelati shops. I hope the waistline doesn't suffer!

I have to say that for me it's the emotional connection between the characters that's most important. If that's working and drawing me into the book, then the setting could be almost anywhere.

Having said that, I love a book where the setting becomes an integral part of the story. It really adds a wonderful dimension to the story. Some of my 'keepers' have such vivid settings that I only have to think of the book to get a picture of the place. And when I'm writing, I find knowing the location (whether a real place or a fictitious one) is so important.

Annie
http://www.annie-west.com

bamabelle said...

Settings are important, but for me the primary focus is on the characters. To me the setting is an integral part of the character's story. It helps to complete the picture. I love a variety of settings. I love when a writer can really bring a time and place alive. It is wonderful to take a journey without ever leaving the comfort of home.

myrtleme said...

i think that a really good book has a perfect balance between-settings and characters-they are equally important. being a small town lady myself i find myself getting lost in the settings that are exotic and interesting.

Barbara said...

The setting creates the mood on how the story will play out. Characters are just characters on a page but when you give them a setting that you can picture in your mind it takes the story to a whole nother level of enjoyment.
I like settings in the outback or just out in the country some where,cities bore me.

jennybrat said...

Settings can really complement the characters and set a feel for the story. I love all sorts of settings, but have a partiality for historical England/France and contemporary Texas.

Nicola Marsh said...

Great comments, everyone.

I agree totally that characters and setting are intricately interwoven. If I can imagine where I am in a book, I'm more likely to get a feel for the characters and empathise with them.
That said, if the hero is to die for and the heroine is more than a match for him, they could be in Timbuktu and I'd still be riveted by the book :)

Annie, as for the first-hand research, you'll see exactly how far my waist has expanded at the OZ conference in 2 weeks! Boy, do I have a sweet-tooth...

Judy F said...

characters are more important to me. but I do get a kick out of a book set where I live esp when I can picture exactly the place the author is talking about

Maureen said...

Although it's the characters that I'm most interested in a good setting can make a book even more enjoyable. I like all settings but it's always nice when the settings are somewhere I've been.

Serena said...

Wow, two of my favorite people blogging together. Hi Lucy and hi Nic!! (Don't get me wrong, LOVE all the other authors too but these two lovely ladies are personal friends :) )

I LOVE characters and an intricately woven plot, but sometimes the settings just add that extra dimension. I love exotic places - adore Europe - though also love my Aussie settings. And it's heartwarming to recognize places in a description. I can almost taste those cakes and the gelati!! YUMBO!
Hugs to all the Blog party-goers.

Debby said...

I enjoy different settings. They do make a difference. Isolation makes for good plot lines but then again so does the big city and small town. They each have unique qualities to contribute. Makes readin so much fun.

Meljprincess said...

Hi Nicola!
For historical romance, my favorite settings are England, Scotland.
For any genre, I like the above two as well as Saratoga Springs, NY and the western states.
I think characters and settings are both important.

Marcail said...

I do like to read about new places that I may visit one day or about places I've been where I can say --"Yeah, I remember that place. We did this or that there."
I'm not a small town type, but if the characters are compelling and the location isn't pivotal to the story, I'll read a story with this type of setting.

I'm more interested in the characters story, but I view setting as another revealing character trait.

Bonnie Ferguson said...

Settings and characters go together for me :) As for settings I particularly enjoy?

For Historicals: My favorites are Regency England, Victorian England (both the early and late period), Georgian England, as well as Medieval Scotland, England, and Wales.

For contemporaries: Sometimes I like a fictional town, city, or country, and sometimes a real one, but my favorites are usually in exotic locales.

Fiona Lowe said...

Hi, Nic,

As you know I LOVE setting my stories in small towns in gorgeous places. Muttawindi in Pregnant on Arrival is on the edge of the Australian desert. The Nurse's Longed-For Family is set in Roseport, a sleepy seaside town with rolling surf except for the summer months when a gorgeous doctor rolls in. And then there is the beautiful Alpine region of southern australia with its towering snow gums that soar to the sky which I used as a backdrop for Her Miracle Baby. I LOVE creating my ficticious towns and I always end up wanting to visit!

Terrific topic, enjoy it
Cheers
Fiona

http://www.fionalowe.com

Cheryl said...

I love to read settings that are very descriptive but when the characters come alive in my mind is what makes me enjoy the story the most.

Dannyfiredragon said...

For me characters are a little more important than the setting, but I enjoy it to read a book with a more exotic setting, for example Australia, New Zealand or Canada.

Liz Fielding said...

Hi Nic! I can't wait to get my hands on your Fairy Store book!

Settings add atmosphere to stories and can help reveal character, but I don't want it taking over. Too much description is a big turn-off for me.

Barb V. in NY said...

Settings are very important. I think that many times they have a great influence on what kind of people the characters turn out to be -- just like in real life. Someone from an isolated area in Alaska would have a whole different frame of reference than someone who grew up in Miami.

I personally love books set in or near New Orleans. I know that some authors shy away from that setting post-Katrina. But to me it's fiction, not a documentary, and I love nothing better than a bad boy Cajun hero. I also enjoy books set in the Pacific northwest, Ireland, England, and Australia.

Pat said...

Defintely the characters do it more for me. The "they" is more important than the "where". A nice setting does enhance the story I will say.

Lori said...

Hi Nicola
I think that settings are important and I enjoy being taken to different places in my reading. I don't have a particularly favorite setting. I just like it to fit the story.
I like watching the characters interact in their settings. I think that the characters drive the story, though.
Did you have a nice time after you got all dressed up in your party frock?
Lori

Laurie said...

I agree that the setting is important. I love two settings a lot: 1)Greece with it's rich history, strong family ties and different culture and 2)The desert there's something so mysterious, and scary about it's vastness, untamedness(hope that's a word). I like the idea of sheiks, nomads, wealth and opulance.

CrystalG said...

I tend to be more interested in the characters than the setting. But, I do find the description of the setting helps me to visualize the story.
For historicals, I like Regency England, Scotland and American Western settings.
For contemporary,I am pretty open to where the book is set. I do enjoy books set in Australia, New Zealand, England,Greece,and Italy.

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Characters are the most important factor for me. Good characters can transform any setting,although a fab setting can be the icing on the cake to a great book.

I had no idea that your setting for 'Wife and Mother Wanted' was fictitious! I LOVED this story and highly recommend it to everyone!

Jennifer L. said...

Yes settings are important. I especially love it when the is in a town I've visited and mentions acutal local parks, restraunts, buildincts, ect! Those types of books draw me in even more!

Carol said...

As long as the settings fit the story, I'm happy. The most important thing to me is the characters and the story it self. Those are the two things that have to hold my interest.

Pam P. said...

More important than varied settings to me are the characters and relationships. I think the setting is more crucial in some stories than others, but always the characters. I love Scottish historicals but also some in more exotic locales. For contemporaries, I like to see smaller towns.

MarilynS said...

I love "island" settings or countries like the UK, Italy, Greece or Spain. It transports me from the US to places I've either traveled or would love to visit.

LISA WILLIAMS said...

I not really particular of the setting as long as the characters and storyline are great.

Shuck Ying said...

I guess I like a island setting..seems more relaxing and fun.

Deborah Chan said...

I concentrate more on the characaters and their interactions.

Julie Day said...

As an aspiring writer, I currently place my characters in settings that I am familiar with eg where I live or places I have visited a few times. Perhaps when I am published and more established I will become more venturesome and branch in to areas I have to research for.

Kathleen said...

I enjoy reading about different settings...so settings do influence me a little. But characters and plots are what makes a great book to me.

Dena said...

Settings are imporatant but it's the characters that drive the story along. My favorite settings are Scotland,Ireland,England,and Italy for historicals,and Australia,New Zealand, and tropical Islands for contemporaries.I think that's so funny about your new book setting actually being a real city.I love reading books set in Australia because I really want to visit there and have since I was a teenager.

Nicola Marsh said...

Waving to familiar faces and lots of new ones :)

I'm really enjoying reading everyone's responses.
For me, I love to get transported away to a place I haven't been, even if it's fictitious.
Great characters do this primarily and the setting enhances the story.

Part of the joy of reading is the incredible ride, the fantasy of people we can empathise with and the places they live.
I love it!
Okay, saying goodnight now from 'Down Under'! Looking forward to reading more comments in the morning :)

Amy S. said...

My favortie settings are New Orleans, Hawaii, and Australia.

Trish said...

Great topic Nic! And I can't wait for your first Modern Extra and that lovely new Princess book!

I'm a character gal too I'm afraid, to me the setting is always a backdrop. But the beauty of setting books in Ireland is that the setting has already sold itself! People already have such a firm idea of rolling green fields and history and small villages - that I kind of get to cheat a little and use very little description... (oooh... did I just confess that to millions??? My secret is out- I'm lazy...)

Reading wise - Having grown up hundreds of miles away from an American godfather who I hero worshipped - I loved books with US settings and thats still true even today. But since I started reading both Nic and Ally's books I have to say I'm more than ready for a trip down-under! I guess if the setting makes us add the place to our holiday dream-list then thats a plenty big enough compliment - huh?!

Jennifer L hart said...

I think settings are important, more that a wrong setting can throw off a sexy scene than contribute to it.

Ali said...

While I think setting are important, characters do it for me more.

Becky said...

Settings are important. But for me it's usually the liveliness of the characters and there personalities that pull me into the book. I get so wrapped up in there life that I never want to come out of it. :)

amy*skf said...

Settings are important--if the writer makes them so. I love a good setting, it adds another layer and almost another character at times.

Joyce said...

I pay attention to characters first and settings second.

ShelMel said...

Congratulations on all of your upcoming releases! That's awesome!!

Hmm - settings don't really matter much to me, but I understand the desire to create the perfect setting for your story. Even though people probably don't realize it when they're reading your story, your setting plays an important role.

Cryna said...

The characters are the ones that bring the whole book together for me, and the setting is something that is like a backdrop and makes the whole story read well. To me, the setting could be anywhere in the mountains, City or where ever the characters need it to be to make the whole story come together. But at the same time the setting has to be believable so that you can picture the whole thing and know that the story would never have come together to be enjoyable if it had happened elsewhere.

Susan said...

The settings are important in relationship with the story of the characters. I read a wide range of genres but small town stories where everyone knows everyone are my favorites.

Marcy said...

Hi Nicola. :-)

For me it's more how the characters react in the setting that makes the story become real.

Debbie E said...

I love to read about real places but a good fantasy books is great as well.

The only time I don't like settings is when it is detailed to death and you get lost in so much detailing that it detracts from the characters and story.

I always love to read about steamy New Orleans as I have never been there but some of the acts that take place - well - it can be very exciting.

Australia is a place I would love to go and so to learn more about that is great.

kim said...

i do like island settings, but it does not mattter to much to me.

robynl said...

The setting adds to the story for sure but the characters are what make the story. The characters make the setting as good as they are.

Becky said...

The setting really isn't important unless it is significant to the plot and/or characters.

Nancy in TX said...

I think settings are important, but like everyone else - secondary to plot & characterization. It is still an important element to the story - it IS the backdrop for events taking place and can even become a character onto istelf!

I do like to read about exotic locales - places I've been to and say to myself, "I know EXACTLY where that is!!" or places I want to go to (love those Greek Tycoons-my dream vacation!). Sometimes you have to let the hero & heroine do the travelling for you! :)

A also believe that settings can also become cliche if not done properly. For example: Is there a chick lit novel NOT set in New York City or London?

Well, those are my two cents worth...

Have a wonderful day, y'all!! :)

Jenn said...

I have to say that I enjoy both the setting and the characters. I love to see how the characters are in their setting. I also love it when I can read a book and feel like I am right there with them. I can picture the street or the town and how the heroine and hero live and grow in this setting.

Cherie Japp said...

I understand where you are coming from about being home all the time since I also have a toddler, a 3 year old boy. I am also expecting a baby girl who is due in October so it is not going to get any better. :-) But they are worth it. As for my personal opinion, characters are top for me but setting is a close second. To me, you can have the most exciting settings but if the characters are wooden and you can't relate to them then the book will flop.

Cherie Japp said...

Also, I did want to share that I think Australia is a great setting for your books. My brother is currently stustying at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He says it is beautiful over there. He has emailed me pictures and I have to agree. It is beautiful over there.

Anne McAllister said...

Hi Nic,

Settings are really important to me. They help form who the characters are -- and they're such fun to research!!!

Niny said...

I think the characters are more for me than settings, but I really enjoy knowing about the place where the story takes place and the influence it has on the characters, I think everything has to "mesh" together. Do I make any sense? LOL Oh and BTW adding this book to my TBB! Thanks for sharing!

AudreyB said...

Settings are super important to me, if I like the setting i can reread the book every year. I always loved the provence series by peter mayle, just makes me want to go to the south of france. Any books set in places that are dreamy and romantic, and always a beach area inspires me. I prefer real places to fictional though.

Jennifer Y. said...

I think it is more about the characters for me than the setting. I don't really care where the book takes place as long as the characters are likeable and the plot is good.

Lucy Monroe said...

Hey, Nicola :) I know that for some authors, settings are simply the address at which a story happens, but for others - like me - they can become another character in the story. I like reading both types of stories - the ones where the setting is rather vague and a simple backdrop and those like yours, that really let you feel, taste and smell the environs for your characters. This is truly about the author. If she does settings well, I want them to be a main part of the story...if she does acres of description without any visceral connection, I'll skim the paragraphs related to setting.

Cynthya said...

I think settings are very important. They really add to the atmosphere of the book. I like reading about places I'm familiar with, like New Orleans, London, New York City, etc., but I also like learning about new places, like Australia and Greece.

Rachael said...

My favorite setting in a book Japan or China. After reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, I absolutely adore the setting. Also in Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, was set in China and I loved that too.

In chick lit, I like a NY setting. That's fun and always interesting to read about.

In mysteries I like little unknown deserted towns.

In general fiction, a couple of my favorite authors have used NJ, where I live, as their setting. That can be fun too.

Beaches or anywhere near water is a really nice setting too.

Kelley said...

Characters are more important to me then the settings. I do enjoy books set in small towns, with all the small town problems and joys.

Kiki said...

I might care about a setting if it interests me, but I'll live without it if the story is great.
But a well-drawn, intriguing setting will draw me in and might make me pick up a book even if the plot itself doesn't sound exactly riveting.

And oooh, I second the cake comment. St Kilda, yummmmmm.

Estella said...

Characters do it more for me than settings.

Amy said...

I think setting's are important but the characters are what hooks me.

Julie in Ohio said...

I am a settings girl. I love to imagine different places and landscapes surrounding the characters.

Jen in WA said...

I think that whether or not the setting is important really depends on the story. I mean, can you imagine Debbie Macomber's "Cedar Cove" series in some other place than that small coastal WA town?

But more often than not, I could really care less about the setting. I usually only pay attention if the setting almost is a character in itself (like Cedar Cove) or I recognize a place because I live there or have been there.

lidia said...

I think that both the characters and the settings are important. There are books with wonderful settings but if the characters don't do anything for me, I don't like the book.

That being said, I like exotic settings. The Heroes tend to be "larger than life" and exotic settings just add to the mystique.

Tee said...

I enjoy reading a book that has settings in my own state or places that I have been. This is so I can see just how acurate they are, but the characters are most important.

Nicola Marsh said...

Thanks everyone for shimmying into those party frocks and coming along to leave comments.

I've enjoyed every minute of reading them, such a wide variety of opinions :)

I think Lucy summed it up when she said the secret to doing settings well is in the layering.
Paragraphs of boring description of any place would be a turn-off. The secret is to blend the setting into the story carefully, so the reader gets a feel of the place without having it slap them in the face.

This has been too much fun!
Thanks for boogying along with me :)

Heather said...

To me, setting can be a character unto itself...a living, breathing and integral part of the plot. I like an author who can bring that setting alive, evoking the feel for a place in all its little nuances. If details are too hazy or confusing it can draw readers out of the story.

blueberri said...

A book cover that has a pic of the ocean or an idyllic lake on it will draw my attention faster than anything. I'm a water person. I also am drawn to log cabins. My husband has built one, but turned it into his doghouse. LOL

J.J. Massa said...

I have to agree with Jodi in that I really get focused on the characters. The setting is important, though, that's true. I like to feel the steamy heat of the bayou when I'm reading about it, or the sleet and snow...whatever. Layering does, indeed, make tons of difference.

Pam Champagne said...

Settings are important to me. I like tidbits about an area thrown into the story.

Melissa said...

I focus mostly on characters and their story, but I'll say an exotic setting where I've never been or will never hope to be always grabs my attention when picking books. Other times it is kind of fun to read about a place where you are actually from or have visited.

Pamk said...

i love the settings. It takes all everything involved to make a good story and yes the setting and surroundings is part of it

KarenG said...

I like to read about Scotland and other faraway places that I probably will not have a chance to visit.

Jennifer L. said...

I'd love to read a book set in some reomte mountain range like the Andes or the Himalayas.

Juliet said...

For me the characters are the most important, and settings depend on the author.

In some books the setting is just wallpaper, but in others, and I like these, it is an important element of the book. I love when it is an exotic or interesting site that I don't know, but that the author brings to life for me. And I love to find more about the setting of a book in an author's website. It makes the book even more enjoyable.

mammakim said...

I think the characters set off the tone but the setting wraps the story together. The personalities of the characters set up the romance but the setting can make it work so much better if I can visualize a romantic place

catslady said...

I have to go with the characters first for anything. I don't care about where the setting is or the plot for that matter as long as I care for the characters - then it seems everything else falls into place. If I don't care enough about the characters - nothing can save the story for me.

Teoh said...

Wow, long time haven't read any stories that have been set on private Greek island or a small castle in the Italian hills. Think M&B use to churn out lots of that. For me seeting is more important to set the mood but ultimately it's the characters that sells it. Can hate the plot, the title, the ending but as long as the characters are good, will go for the book again , especially if in a series.

Nicola Marsh said...

Wow,
we've had favourite settings from the Greek Islands to the Andes, the Himalayas to New Orleans.
My favourites?
Apart from gorgeous Australia (I'm biased!) I enjoy island stories. Whether real or fictitious islands, there's something about the exotic location that gets me every time.
And I adore the small town feel of SEPs books. Gorgeous!