Guest Post: Michele Stegman on How Stories are like Gemstones

Michele Stegman

I love garnets, and I have several. Some are set in silver, but, to me, they look best in gold. Diamonds, on the other hand, look good in either white or yellow gold settings. Either way, the setting must be right to show the stone off to its best advantage.

It works the same way with the stories we write. Some stories are like diamonds and can be set just about any place or time because they are so universal. Other stories, like garnets, work best in a specific setting. Either way, the setting is going to affect the story and the characters.

Romeo and Juliet was originally set in “fair Verona,” but Bernstein made the same story work in 1950’s New York. He had drugs, gangs, and guns instead of feuding families and swords. The same story would probably work just as well in the American West with a family of cattle ranchers versus sheep ranchers. Then you would have horses and six-guns and lots of wide open spaces. But those different settings definitely affect the characters and the story.

Fortune's Foe by Michele StegmanOther stories need a very specific setting. The movie, Out of Africa, with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep would not work well in New Jersey. Not even if you change the title. Africa was too much a part of that movie and that story. Someone suggested Africa was the third character.

My story, Fortune’s Foe, had to be set in Spanish St. Augustine, Florida, in 1740. The setting, and the history, in that book are a very big part of the story. The fort, Castillo de San Marcos, Ft. Mose, the war between the English and the Spanish, the prisoners captured after James Oglethorpe’s failed siege, the runaway slaves who have found safe haven in the colony, are all part of the story. To take that setting away would collapse the story.

Mr. Right’s Baby is set in San Antonio, Texas. The hero is one quarter Comanche, works in the oil business, and lives on a ranch. I guess I could have let him live on a farm outside Cincinnati and work at P&G, but I don’t think the story would be nearly as effective–or as interesting. I think I found the perfect setting for that one.

I hope you find the perfect setting for all your stories. And when you read, pay attention to setting.

Tell me about your favorite book. How does setting affect the story and characters? Would the story work in any other setting?

Thank you, Jennette, for hosting me today.

Michele Stegman is the author of warm, sensual romances. You can find out more about her and her books at her website: www.michelestegman.com. You can find her books on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and in the iBook store.


Jennette says: Thanks for being here, Michele! I know that Time’s Enemy could not have been set anywhere besides Dayton.  Readers, what do you think? Michele and I would love to hear from you! And if you enjoy well-researched historical romance with engaging characters and chock-full of sexual tension, Fortune’s Foe is a don’t-miss! I’m going to be away from the computer for awhile, but please know that I appreciate every comment, retweet, and Facebook Share. I’ll be back to reply and visit your blog (if you have one) as soon as I can!

14 Responses to \

  1. For the most part, setting does nothing for me. Mention it’s a city or a countryside, or a farm, and that’s all I need. It’s the characters I’m drawn to and care about. But if the setting gets too crazy (i.e. fantasy), then I get lost (and that’s the biggest reason I don’t read that genre).

  2. I agree that setting can sometimes get in the way if the author concentrates on it rather than the story and characters. Setting is more like a good musical score in a movie. It should enhance and add to the story without taking over. Setting IS important, but like a woman’s make-up, it shouldn’t be what you notice. 🙂

  3. I’m not a person to pay attention to details, so often the descriptions of setting give me something to skip over. But obviously, a time travel needs different settings and each bring specific problems and challenges to the characters. I’m reading a suspense right now, set in Louisiana – the author has done a good job of making it read like small town Louisiana but with equivalent details, it could have been set in any small town in north America. So sometimes setting is important and others…not so much.

  4. I agree with the comments made. The setting should enhance the story and shouldn’t go to far overboard. If it spends too much time describing the setting I start skipping ahead. I try to keep that in mind when I am writing. Keep it tight. Give enough so the reader can get their bearings. That’s all they really want anyways, right?

  5. Setting has a way of seeping into your subconscious when you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading “Fortune’s Foe” – Sure, I might get the story without the setting, but it would be like…someone telling me about a rainbow, rather than being there and smelling the sun after rain and the vivid colors crossing the sky and feeling the wonder in nature. Fortune’s Foe works for me because there’s a unique setting that’s not only a nice backdrop, but an integral part of the story’s framework.

    I don’t travel to see what another town’s Wal-Mart looks like. I travel to see the unique things that make that town different from my own.

  6. Hi Jennette and Michele!

    I love the way you explain settings Michele. If we plot well, they can be one of most important part of our stories. In fact, Donald Maass is quoted as saying that in the best of stories, settings ARE a character. And when you think about Out of Africa, as you mentioned, the setting was another character in the story. I think settings can set the tone/mood for the story.

    Thank you so much Jennette for introducing us to Michele today! Best wishes to both of you with the success of you books! 🙂

  7. A setting should help form your characters and their interactions (I loved the analogy of it being make-up…to enhance, suggest mood and place…as in one wouldn’t wear soft sunny blushes for a night at the ball or in mosh pit).

    A character who is disconnected with the setting will have a very different reaction to a native. And a native can have different reactions according to gender, race, age… All of that is setting in a sense too.

    So yes, I agree! YAY setting! =)

    Thank you, Michele and Jen!

  8. Great post, Michele. Like some of the previous commenters, I love it when the setting is a character of its own. That might explain why I read and write fantasy 🙂 But you can definately go overboard and confuse the reader instead of anchoring them in the story. Prologues focused on backstory are a particularly bad practice among fantasy writers.

    Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series brought something new to the vampire stories by setting the books to a small town in Louisiana. Also Gone With The Wind is irrevocably tied to the events of world at the time the book is set to. If it was set to another war, Rhett and Scarlet would be entirely different people.

  9. I love it when I can sink into a story. Lush descriptions, for me, add texture and depth to a story, but too much can be too much. There’s a time and place for extended detail, and also times when brevity is best. Great post!

  10. I pay attention to setting, Michele. As a writer, I like to come up with location-inspired plot twists. As a reader, I like the fantasy of experiencing life in an unfamiliar place.

  11. The when is often as important as where. For instance, I have thoroughly enjoyed Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, in part because they are set in the early 1900s when the story of an Irish immigrant in the U.S. is particularly compelling. Weaving history through the plot makes it even more intriguing.

    I like your jewel analogy. Thanks!

  12. Stacy, I agree that sometimes, setting isn’t that important, as long as I can picture where the characters are!

    Michele – perfect analogy! And thanks again for the wonderful guest post. 🙂

    Louise – I tend to skim description too, when it’s too many details that just don’t matter to the story. I think that’s the key – to make it matter. And Michele does a fantastic job of it in her books!

    Debra – so true! I tend to lean the same way – then have to layer the setting details back in so that the reader gets a true feel for where they are. It’s quite a balancing act!

    Becke, I have to agree – and authors who can do this are truly skilled!

    Athena – love the Wal-Mart analogy!

    Karen – great example of making setting matter! And thanks for your good wishes. 🙂

    Eden – great way to look at it – and another key to making setting matter!

    Reetta – I totally agree on the fantasy prologues – so many authors use them for an excuse to info-dump – the wrong way to do setting IMO.

    Pat, another great way to make setting matter!

    Julie – I totally agree! Hopefully that’s evident in my books. 🙂

    Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone! And thanks again to Michele for a fantastic post!

  13. Serena, I totally agree. I need enough setting details to picture where the characters are, and if I feel like I’m there, then the author has really done his/her job. OTOH, too much, and I just skim over. Thanks for stopping by!