We’ve covered plot driven books, and character driven novels. But what, exactly, is a setting driven novel? It almost sounds wrong when you say it out loud, as if the words don’t make much sense put together. Setting driven novel. All novels have a setting don’t they? They don’t occur in a vacuum, but in a place. Or more than one. But a setting driven novel?
I’ll probably take some heat for this along the line, but I can think of several novels with their setting as the main imeptus of the story. Sure, there are characters in it, and a plot or two along the pages, but the book was set – or placed – in this particular area to tell the story from that location and that location alone.
James Michener, for one author, was a prolific writer who used the settings of his novels as major roadworks. Hawaii, Chesapeake, Alaska, Iberia, are just a few of the titles of his novels. Yes, these books were sweeping family sagas that told generational tales, but where they occurred was a huge factor in how the story was told.
James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy and Annie Proulx are authors who use their settings to weave out their story lines. You can’t really image the Prince of Tides taking place in any other setting than the South, can you? Or The Shipping News taking place anywhere else but the Newfoundland coast?
All these authors know the value of having the proper setting to tell their tales.
Now, the argument I can feel forming is this one: Yes, these are books with setting as a major factor in them, but they are really not about the South, or Hawaii, or any of those places. They are stories about the people in the books.
Well…yes. But… imagine if Tom Wingo in the Prince of Tides had come to New York to see his sister from, say, Seattle. Would he have been the same person? Would his background – his deep southern background, in which he was stepped in traditions and culture indicative of that place – have proven to be such a driving force in the book with regards to his actions, non-actions, and how he handled his sister’s most recent suicide attempt?
This is a topic that requires a lot of thinking on the writer’s part. I can imagine that all of the characters in these novels were shaped and formed BECAUSE of and DESPITE where they are from. I could easily write a story about apple pickers in the Northeast. But would The Cider House Rules have been such an effective book if it had taken place in California? ( I don’t even know if they can grow apples in California, but you get my drift!)
Where you place your novel, where you set the characters into place, is a huge part of the story you want to tell.
Choose wisely and well.