Novel Basics: Card # 8

Card # 8
The Place Card
(aka Setting)

The Place Card asks the questions,
“Where and when does the novel take place?”

One of the elements I’ve always loved about reading novels is their ability to transport me to faraway places and long ago times like the Ancient World of the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries by Lindsey Davis or the medieval world of Brother Cadfael in the historical mysteries of Ellis Peters. There’s a whole romance subgenre that takes place in Britain during the Regency period. James Church’s fascinating Inspector O series takes place in modern-day North Korea. The sky isn’t even the limit. Consider Andy Weir’s The Martian that takes place, at least in part, on Mars. Artemis, Weir’s second book, takes place in a city on the moon.

The times and the locales for your novel will heavily shape its content because setting supplies many things. Growing up in a small town, suburbia, or a big city all will affect the nature of your protagonist, for instance, in different ways.

It very well might supply be the antagonist like the frigid cold of a Siberian winter in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Weather can matter a lot in fiction, in part for the mood of the piece. (If you place characters on a space ship headed to Mars, you might not have weather, but you might have debris hitting the ship.)

Setting will supply minor characters. For example, the doorman who greets your protagonist when he comes home from a long day on Wall Street will have no place in the small riverside town you’ve chosen for where your protagonist grows up in the 1950’s. For that book you might need an old lady who runs the corner grocery store instead.

Something else that will affect how your book turns out is when it takes place: past, present or future, and what each choice requires. Specifically if you choose some past time as I did for my Calendar Mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, you might need to do research. Setting your book in an imagined future as did Andy Weir for The Martian and Artemis might require research as well. Using the present day, as I’m considering for the contemporary cozy mystery series I haven’t started yet, might seem like a safe choice, but it very well might require research into police work.

Another thing you will have to take into account is the amount of time involved in the action of your novel. Consider the difference between One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a very short novel, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karina, both very long novels that span years.

And quite importantly setting can provide obstacles to your protagonist in achieving his or her goal . . .

That will soon bring us to Card # 9, but first I want to take a short break from the card method of brainstorming your novel to talk about two very helpful writing techniques.