Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Please join me in welcoming R. Ann Siracusa to My Story, My Way.  Just wait until you read her post on Setting As A Character!!

Ann is involved in many activities, but her two favorite are traveling the world and writing fiction.  This talented author combines those passions into novels which transport readers to exotic settings, immerse them in romance, intrigue, and foreign cultures, and make them laugh.
Today, she is retired from a career in architecture and urban planning where she was multi-published in professional non-fiction categories. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and writes full time. Her first novel, a post WWII mafia thriller, was published in 2008.  She now writes for Breathless Press who has published the first four of a five-book romantic suspense series, one sci fi romance, and two short stories.

Her latest book, All For Spilled Blood will be Saturday's excerpt.

An international youth convention, art smugglers, and terrorists trying to recruit young computer geniuses and a national art treasure.

Harriet Ruby, tour director extraordinaire, and her fiancĂ© and favorite spy, Will Talbot, travel to Russia undercover as tour directors for the US delegation to an international youth conference.  Harriet tackles her first covert assignment to investigate smuggled artwork while Will’s mission is to locate and destroy a group of terrorists recruiting young computer experts.
Their marriage plans hit a snag when Will locates a long-lost cousin with startling news about his heritage.  When the artwork being smuggled has particular significance to one of the terrorist sympathizers, their missions entangle and begin to unravel, leaving Will at the mercy of terrorist kidnappers and Harriet holding the bag.

Breathless Press Buy Link
Amazon Buy Link

Setting As A Character

You've done character profiles for your hero, heroine, antagonist, and secondary characters. You've plotted your novel. You're ready to go. But wait! Have you overlooked that mystery character?
Who's that?
Your setting, of course.
When I e-mailed Leslie Ann about guest blogging, I said I'd write about St. Petersburg, the setting for my most recent release All For Spilled Blood. "Great," she replied. "Setting is another character."
Absolutely! That stirred the juices, and I decided to blog on using your setting as a character in your novel.
Without place, the characters are just there without reason to act or care. Setting is not only the time, location, and circumstance of where the story takes place, but the social milieu which shapes values and the characters. Nathan Bransford sees three important traits in a novel:
● "Change Underway: The best settings are not static, unchanging places that have no impact on the characters' lives. Instead in the best worlds there is a plot inherent to the setting itself: a place in turmoil, or a place that is resisting change but there are tensions roiling the calm, or the sense of an era passing in favor of a new generation."

● "Personality and Values: A great setting has its own value system. Certain traits are ascendant, whether it's valor and honor, justice and order, every man for himself, or it could even be a place where normal values and perspectives have become skewed or inverted…There's a personality outlook that throws us off kilter and makes us imagine how we'd react if we were placed in that world."

● "Unfamiliarity: Most importantly, a great setting shows us something we've never seen before. Either it's a place that most readers might be unfamiliar with and have never traveled to, or it shows us a place that we are all-too-familiar with, but with a new, fresh perspective that makes us look again."
The setting may establish the mood of the novel, as well as serve as a character that helps the protagonist achieve his or her goals, or as the antagonist working against them [e.g. a novel where the protagonist's goal in climbing Mt. Everest and the setting does everything it can to prevent that with wind, falling rocks, breaking ropes, and so on].
So, your setting is definitely a character in your novel. Whether it's a primary or secondary character depends on the kind of novel and what the author wants. But choosing the correct setting is just as important as the other components of the novel. It can assist the reader to experience the drama and feel the moods and emotions of each particular scene, as well as the novel as a whole.
Sometimes settings are such that the story couldn't take place anywhere else because of the mood, physical features, social values and customs. Think about what makes your setting unique.
Author Susan Meissner writes:
"We are wired to assign value to places. That's why home is so sweet, Yosemite is so beautiful, Paris is so romantic and a moonlit beech is so calming. It's also why dark houses scare us, crumbling cliffs intimidate us, and foggy moors depress us. Places communicate something to us. A spider doesn't care if it makes a web in a dark, musty cellar or under a chair in an opulent ballroom. But we care!"
You can set a novel in a place you've never been and pull it off, but having been there is better. Physical presence gives you a sense of how the location feels, tastes, and smells. You hear the background sounds, feel the rhythm and pace. These things are often hard to research. Even if you've never been to the location where your novel is set, thinks about those characteristics of place.
While setting may not be the same as mood and atmosphere, the reader's emotional response to the time and place of the setting, each setting has its own unique mood and atmosphere. And the more familiar you are with the sense of place, the more you can use it to assist or hinder your protagonist, which will add depth to your novel.
Doing research in advance allows the author to pull those in as details that affect and further plot without stopping in the middle to look things up, or going back later to add them…and then forgetting to do that.
A few things to look at include: Weather and climate, slang and language, particularly if the setting is foreign, the appearance at different times of day and in different seasons. You may even want to find out of the location is on daylight savings time…and that's not just for the US settings. What places in the setting are particularly scary/dangerous and peaceful/safe, map and satellite pictures, topography and physical characteristics.
Susan Meissner also suggests, as part of your research, that you look at the location's newspaper on line and check out "real estate ads, the society page, obituaries, and the restaurant guide." You can get a good sense of what the city or town is like. Personally, I'd throw in reading the police blotter or equivalent, too.
I was intrigued by Author MaryLu Tyndall's list of six ways the setting can help or hinder the protagonist in achieving his/her goals in general and in a scene. It's worth the time to read her article. (See Resources) Here's a recap of her points.
● The setting as a friend / a comfortable, relaxing place where protagonist can reflect, or a safe place to hide from enemies.
● The setting as an antagonist / introduce conflict, trouble, thwarts protagonist's plans.
● The setting as a mentor / a place to learn or make discoveries, a place to prepare to take something on.
● The setting as a shadow for protagonist / a shadow reflects the deepest flaws of the character / a setting that opens the character's eyes to his/her own flaws.
● The setting as a model of what the protagonist wants to be / a setting that fosters qualities to which the protagonist aspires.
● The setting as an example / a setting that either assists or hinders the character in the particular scene.
There are important roles of the setting of each scene.
St. Petersburg is a beautiful city founded by Tzar Peter the Great in 1703. Although created to be as much like other contemporary European cities as possible, nothing is really old by European standards, and the buildings themselves take on some of the special expansive qualities typical of Russian architecture.
I didn't know, when I went there in 2004, that St. Peterburg is called the Venice of the North. It was originally constructed on ten islands on the north side of the Neva river delta. Today the city spreads over more than forty islands and has 342 public bridges of all sizes, types, and designs. It’s impossible to walk more than a few hundred meters without crossing a bridge. The canals and the morning fog give the city a very romantic and picturesque mood, as do the white nights when the sun goes down at 1 am and the rest of the night is like twilight until the sun comes up at about 3:30 am.

The Tsar expected residents of the city to move around during the summer months by boat on the canals. In the winter, when the canals are frozen, they were expected to use the canals with sleds. I guess that didn’t work out. After Peter’s death, they started building bridges. The first permanent bridge of bricks and stone across the main branch of the Neva was constructed in 1850.
The Russian people are integral to St. Petersburg as a setting. I found them friendly, helpful, and often outgoing…but serious. Yes, they do laugh and smile, and they know how to have a good time, but in the shopping center or along the streets, most of them seemed to go about their business with unsmiling intense expressions, as though they take life very seriously. The older ones rarely step out of the box of their responsibility, seemingly conditioning from prior times.

If you read All For Spilled Blood, you will see how I use the setting as a character in the novel.

Ann loves  to hear from her readers and can be contacted through her website, Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus.



  1. Wow, what an interesting blog. I hadn't thought about the setting as a character, but what you've said made a lot of sense. I've set some of my stories in my home state of Missouri, even to placing them near where I live, in St. Louis. What we know, right? But others take place in places I've never been and can only imagine.

    That's where google becomes imperative. There's a lot to be learned, even with using Google maps to get close up views of a particular area.

    Some authors make up their own settings, such as other planets, where they are forced to world build so that the reader can see the same world.

    Other times, it's a familiar setting but perhaps drawn into an alternate world.

    My current WIP takes place in Paris. Why? It felt right, and one of my characters works for the Cardinal of Paris. But at the same time it is an AU version of our world, and things are not the same as you'd expect. At least not in attitudes and such. Paris is still Paris.

    Good luck with your new release, sounds intriguing!


  2. What an interesting article. I bookmarked it and will read it again as I plot my next book.

  3. Setting is a vital part of any story and it does shape the story and characters in ways no one can anticipate.

    Great Blog!

  4. I often teach setting as character and I'm mighty happy to see other professional writers teach this too. Thanks for this great post!

  5. Hi Julie,
    I'm glad you enjoyed Ann's post.

    I also use Google Earth to get a real birds-eye view (or street level) view of the area. It's amazing.

    I think we also forget that our own home town can be fascinating. My Christmas novel is set in Boulder CO and I'm looking forward to seeing it through new eyes.

    Thanks for visiting

  6. Hi Viki Lyn,
    It's an honor you bookmarked Ann's post!

    Thanks for visiting My Story My Way, hope to see you here again.


  7. Hi Melissa,
    Absolutely right. And as writers isn't it a treat when that happens? I love it.

    Thanks for visiting today and taking the time to comment.


  8. Hey Susan,
    Thanks so much. I do think writers overlook setting as being as intregal as their Heroine/Hero.

    Done well, the reader is immeresed in the entire story, and that's what we strive for, right?

    Thanks for commenting today! Where do you teach?


  9. Great blog post. My WIP is set in my town of Brentwood, California. The one in Northern California. It is transitioning from a farming community to a bedroom community and that is the point that I set my zombie apocalypse. Most people would be at work, not home. It is the middle of nowhere and its saving grace is an abundance of strip malls. LOL

  10. Thanks for all the comments.
    I agree with the "write what you know" approach, because it is the most authentic you can get. Good luck with Paris, Julie. It's a wonderful setting and definitely has a personality that will play a role in your book.
    Viki Lyn, thanks for bookmarking it. Feel free to pass it on to other writers. Ann Siracusa

  11. So glad I read this today! I love setting and there's nothing like reading an author who weaves it in so beautifully that you're right there in the thick of the action.

    Thanks for the informative interview, Ann!

  12. Hi Jill,
    Thanks for visiting...when you said Brentwood, I jumped (I grew up in Pacific Palisades) then laughed with you said the one in the North.

    I can't wait to see how you make this work. Follow up with me, okay?


  13. Hi Tamara,
    I, too, love setting, it makes a book sing for me if it's done right and really makes me believe I'm there.

    Glad you visited the blog

  14. Thanks. Everyone used to ask about O.J. until we explained we are hundreds of miles away. LOL