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:~: Monday, February 12, 2007 :~:

Location, Location, Location

I love setting. In a good book, setting can be as imperative to plot and character formation as backstory. Why does one character live in New York? Why does the other choose to live on a farm in Iowa? How does where each character lives shape and form who they are? How does the setting of the story affect how each character thinks and acts?

An editor who read my manuscript recently commented that foreign locations are a hard sale, commercially. That comment got me thinking a lot about location and what I write. I tend to write a lot of foreign locations. The opening of this particular book starts off in a cave in the Caribbean, then shifts to Italy, then back to the US. It's a fast-paced book, a race so to speak, and the location is constantly changing. The H/h leave the US one more time, but the meat of the book happens on US soil. I have another book set in Mexico, and yet another idea percolating that starts off at a vacation resort on a tropical island - location yet to be determined. I write about places I've visited, places I want to visit, and areas that interest me. When I sit down and write, I'm thinking about what location is imperative to the plot, not how exotic I can make the setting.

I guess I never paid attention to non-US locations in the fiction I read. Some of my favorite stories take place overseas. Some start overseas and come back to the US. Some are the reverse. I've never picked up a book and said, gee, the heroine travels to Thailand in this book. I won't read it. On the contrary, I've learned a lot about overseas locations based on some of my favorite books. I love foreign settings.

How do you feel about non-US locations? Would you not buy a book if it was set overseas? Would you not buy a book from a new author if it was set overseas? Or do you prefer to read books that are primarily set in the US?



Blogger Elisa said...

I love books with non-US locations. An exotic locale adds to the flavor of the story. I don't get to travel much anymore, so I enjoy visiting new places through the books I read.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Laurie said...

I HATE it when editors try and say that non-US locales don't sell. They have no guts or imagination. Look at the success of Memoirs of a Geisha! I love books set in European countries, the Caribbean, Middle East, or Mediterranean countries. I'm not so big on South America or Africa, although I've been to Costa Rica in real life. Russia would do nothing for me either, nor would China, other Asian countries unless they were just part of the story. I find Vietnam war stories highly interesting, as well as historical Japan. "Traveling" stories and foreign location stories would sell alot more if editors would just buy them! I think well-known authors have to break the mold and start writing them, to get them out there, no offense to the writer of this post! :)

3:09 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...

Maybe it has to do with how much interest you have in traveling?

Because books set in exotic locations wouldn't interest me. It probably wouldn't stop me from buying the book, if I found the premise interesting. But it wouldn't make me pick up a book either.

If it came down to two books equally interesting, and I could only choose one--I'd probably pick the one set in the states. And don't ask me why.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

Setting isn't a make-or-break point with me, either, but I think that's more because as a reader, I'm looking for character and plot. Setting is gravy, if that makes sense.

And if non-US locales don't sell, what's up with all the Greek and Italian settings in Harlequin Presents?

Oooh, Laurie, I like Vietnam War-era stories interesting, too. Wouldn't that make for a great backdrop to a modern historical? I think this topic of setting is akin to the editors who say certain historical periods won't sell . . . it's too hard to break out of the mold of "that's the way we've always done it."

5:03 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

See, now I'm all about exotic locations. I DO pick up a book for escape, after all, so if I'm going to escape, best to escape to some tropical hot spot, and learn something about a new location at the same time. I also like stories set overseas.

Locations in the US are fine as well, although I'm not a big city person, so settings in the heart of the city (NY, SF, Chicago) don't do much for me.

That said, if the storyline is intriging, the setting is a non-issue. It is what it is.

Choosing a setting is as important to both plot and character as backstory, conflict or motivation. Is this location the best place for this particular story to be told? Does this setting set a mood (like your SOS, E)? Does this setting create conflict for your characters? Etc.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I enjoy visiting new places through the books I read.

Me, too, Elisa.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

No offense at all, Laurie. I totally agree. :)

7:42 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Maybe it has to do with how much interest you have in traveling?

Could be, Theresa. I hadn't thought of that.

If it came down to two books equally interesting, and I could only choose one--I'd probably pick the one set in the states. And don't ask me why.

Ah, but that's the point of this post. I do want to know why. So...why?

7:45 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

it's too hard to break out of the mold of "that's the way we've always done it.

Isn't that the truth, Lin? I wish editors were willing to take as many chances as authors.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Me, too, J. I pick them up for exotic locations too. I love reading about different places.

And you're right. Setting plays a big part in the mood and tone of the book. Thanks for that reminder. ;)

7:52 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...

hmmm- now you're going to make my brain hurt. lol

Okay-- this is what I think when it comes to me, and exotic locations. I don't have alot of interest in traveling, unless its to S. Africa--and that would be just to see the wildlife.

So to me, an exotic location is more of a distraction than something that pulls me into the story. It's much more likely to kick me out of the story, than to keep me reading.

Plus-- when I read, I put myself in the heroine's position--if I'm drawn into the story enough, that is. So for me, its hard to imagine myself in an exotic location, for the simple fact I've never been there. I've been through the States, though--so its easy to immerse myself in the story and imagine I'm living it.

Now come to think of it, I can't remember any books I've picked up that were set in an exotic location.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

:) Ooh, goodie, Theresa. You've got a doubly good reason to come to South Africa now.

As someone who lives outside the States (yes, in South Africa) my view on this matter is probably worthless, LOL, but as a writer it is interesting. Books like Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight and The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series (two wildly different types of fiction) have done well in the States, I know, and they are set in countries that border SA.

I have a couple of contemporary set South African stories outlined, but I'm letting them lie for now. I suppose once they are written I could try get them published in SA, but the print runs here are so small, I'll probably try the US market. It will be interesting to see what response they get.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

I have always read books to learn about other places, either foreign or domestic.

Where the book is located doesn't make a difference to me as long as I like the characters.

11:01 AM  

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