As some of you may know, when I’m not writing I also tutor high school students in English. I currently have a fabulous bunch of students, most of whom have been with me for some time now. The focus of our time together is for me to help them understand the internal assessments they’re assigned, then help them make a plan for how to tackle the assessment before they go off and write it. After writing, we get together to look at their draft and I teach them how to refine and edit.
We also spend some time looking at the base material they’re working off – essentially books, movies and poems – and talk about the themes and meanings that those works contain. As part of this, we often end up talking about setting.
It’s easy to regard setting as something akin to wallpaper. It’s there in the background to enhance the story. The amount an author uses it is sometimes genre dependent. For instance, historical novels tend to be rich in setting details because those setting details help readers picture the past more clearly. Fantasy writers create fictional settings so need to supply plenty of information for readers to picture environments that otherwise don’t exist. Thriller writers often use it in briefer ways, telling the reader only what they need to know to give context as their protagonist speeds his way through the setting in pursuit of his quarry.
Regardless, what I try to get my students to understand is that setting really does matter. Setting influences us in everyday life much more than we give it credit. Where you are born and when you were born have huge implications for your life: socio-economic, political, educational, health, physical and even nutritional implications. It influences your outlook, your choices and your prospects.
My novels all use New Zealand as the backdrop for the events that take place. I tend to use fictitious settings within New Zealand because many of our real-life towns and cities have distinctive reasons for being and origins that often have Maori ties. My novels are not about those things but about the essence of human nature and behaviour, particularly in groups. Instead, I use the flavour of New Zealand to enhance the story. My most “New Zealand” novel is The Journey, a story about a group of people who come together for a two-week walking trip through New Zealand wine country. Many people tell me how much they enjoyed reading the scenic aspects of the novel – but even more tell me about how much they loved the characters and their take on life – characters that are in turn influenced by the setting.
I am blessed to live in a little slice of paradise and am truly grateful for my own setting. Like all places in the world it is not without problems but, as I often remark to my husband as we drive across the sparkling waters of Waitemata Harbour into the city, there sure are worse places to live. And hopefully, in the future, my setting will inspire yet more novels for fans to enjoy.
Coming soon. . .