By Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host
You know what I love? Books. Surprise! I especially love books with wonderful settings. Give me L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea, please, or J.K. Rowling’s Hogsmeade! Give me the cozy cabin in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Big Woods of Wisconsin, or a crowded assembly room in Jane Austen’s Meryton. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Yorkshire moors thrill me, and the very thought of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland gives me a headache and makes me crave mini cakes frosted in violent shades of pink and yellow.
If a book has fascinating settings, chances are, I will devour it, pink frosting and all.
In her book, ONE WRITER’S BEGINNINGS (Harvard University Press, 1984), Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty wrote, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…”
Think of your favorite novel. Does it take place in Forks, Washington? Middle Earth? Panem? Could you possibly transfer that favorite story to another location and have it work as well? Or does the setting play an integral role in the construction of the story? I believe that truly captivating fiction utilizes setting almost as a character. The setting is essential to the telling of the story. The sites I listed above (Forks, Middle Earth, Panem) are overall settings of novels that are somewhat action-based. But even seemingly “gentle” novels utilize powerful settings.
The recent Newbery-winning novel, MOON OVER MANIFEST, by Clare Vanderpool, is a work of historical fiction about Abilene Tucker, a young girl who is sent by her drifter father to live in Manifest, Kansas (a fictional location), while he finds work. Manifest is a melting-pot for immigrants from all over Europe; and Abilene, who seeks to find her own place in the world, meshes with the residents of this dusty Kansas town right well.
What are your favorite novels? Do they utilize a powerful setting or two? Remember, a setting isn’t just the overall location of a story–it can be the location of a scene, or even a character’s mental landscape. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!