What’s in a Setting – Michelle McLean

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A setting is extremely important to me, both as a historical and a contemporary writer. It’s a huge part of the story. It can dictate how my characters act, how they think, and their motivations. Where they grew up and where they live effects things such as clan or political loyalties, style of dress, mannerisms and speech patterns, religious and superstitious beliefs, modes of travel, customs and traditions. In short, the setting often influences almost every aspect of their lives.

I usually choose to write about places I would love to go. It gives me a chance to live vicariously through my characters for a little while 🙂 This means since I usually haven’t been to these places, that a lot of research is involved. Luckily, I love me a little research 🙂

Some of my favorite settings, both those I’ve written and those I’ve read, include ancient Egypt and Greece, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Italy. My first novel, To Trust a Thief, is set in Victorian England. My Blood Blade Sisters trilogy is set in post-Gold Rush California, pre-Civil War Boston, and post-Civil War North Carolina. Having grown up in California and lived in the south, those were actually settings with which I’m familiar. We used to take family trips to Sutter’s Fort and see the old Gold Rush towns and North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states I’ve visited. My current historical focus is on the Scottish highlands in the 17th century. Visiting Scotland has top billing on my bucket list right now.

My contemporary novels are typically set in New York City, a location I have visited. There’s an energy to that city that opens up an amazing world of possibilities. And I have one novel set in Chicago. I haven’t visited this city yet but after researching all the amazing places to visit, I can’t wait to go! My next series for Entangled’s Lovestruck imprint is set in San Francisco, a city I grew up near and have visited often. It’s a place I love and being able to set a series there sort of allowed me to revisit it through those stories. And hopefully, pull my readers along with me 🙂

While the setting may seem like a simple part of the story, it can actually have a huge impact on what is going on. Take, for example, The Scarlet Letter. The events detailed in that book either wouldn’t have happened or would have happened in a very different way with a very different outcome if the story had been set someplace like the farthest frontier outpost or a Native American village or in the southern states…even during the same time period.

The setting of a story, not just the physical location but everything about it (time of day, season, outside (forest or beach) or inside (and what type of building if inside)) can greatly impact the success of a story and is something I spend a lot of time making sure I get right. And researching all these amazing settings, or better yet, visiting them, is one of the best parts of my job.

What are some of your favorite novel settings?

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Michelle McLean is a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who is addicted to chocolate and Goldfish crackers and spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book. She has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and a knack for explaining complicated things to uncomplicated people. Michelle's non-fiction works include guides on how to write essays, term papers, literary analysis essays, and poetry. She also writes romance with a good dose of mystery and humor, historicals, and a paranormal here and there. When Michelle's not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, an insanely hyper dog, and three very spoiled cats.

8 Responses

  1. Teresa Broderick

    The Regency era is a favorite for me. I also love stories set in the Highlands of Scotland and of course Ireland (I live there). But I do enjoy books set in the twenties in America, the Jazz Age and all that goes with it.

    • Michelle McLean

      Ohhh Ireland is another country on my bucket list. And one I’d love to set a story in as well! 🙂

  2. ki pha

    I love the countryside in the UK whether it be in England, the Highlands or Wales. Small towns and villages.

    • Michelle McLean

      Sometimes when I’m procrastinating I take a look at cottages/houses for sale in small UK villages and dream 🙂 One of my nephews lived in Scotland for a couple years and absolutely loved it there.

  3. Maggi Andersen

    I like your choices, Michelle. Researching to build a world for your characters is far too much fun sometimes. I’m in Ancient Egypt at the moment. 🙂

    • Michelle McLean

      I LOVE Ancient Egypt. I wrote a YA once with Egyptian gods that I’ll probably be self pubbing soon. I’ve got stacks of books on Egypt on my shelves. Such a fascinating time period!