I’m just starting to work on a new writing project, so the setting of the story is very much on my mind. As a huge fan of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels, as well as classics like Wuthering Heights, I’m conscious of the powerful role that location can play in a book. Handled well, it can carry as much weight as the central characters. It can inspire feelings of longing, revulsion, alienation; it can enhance the emotional arc of your narrative by contributing to the atmosphere, or alternatively it can provide a useful counterpoint.
You can be businesslike about it and provide just enough information to anchor the events you’re describing and the people who are involved in them and in a plot driven novel, where action is all, this may be the right way to go about things. However, I’m inclined to think that any writing opportunity which presents itself should be exploited to the full and that if you don’t give due attention to the location of your narrative – where it exists in time and place – you may be selling yourself short.
If you want a brilliant example of how to tackle setting, check out Dart, Deborah Harvey’s new book just published by Indigo Dreams. It’s a young adult’s novel set in 14th century Devon, and Harvey meticulously brings to life this remote mediaeval period (without her extensive research ever intruding), but the irresistible pull of the story lies in its setting on Dartmoor, which works upon the lives of her protagonists almost as powerfully as the scourge of the Black Death – the bubonic plague which overwhelmed the county and decimated its population. Even if you don’t want to learn useful lessons about location, read it anyway: Deborah writes with a poet’s lyricism, combining it with authenticity and accuracy to produce an epic tale that is still haunting me, even though I finished it a while ago.