Hi, my name is Carol Henry and my brand is Destination Romance: romantic, exotic, adventures. Now, right away you’re going to think erotica. Nope. Sorry. My characters get to visit and fall in love in exotic locations around the globe. That’s about as erotic as it’s going to get.
Before I begin my topic for today, I wan to thank everyone for this opportunity to spend the day blogging on one of my favorite topics – settings! And, I want to give you a bit more information about me as a writer, which will help explain why I write what I write.
For over twenty years I wrote human interest features for several local newspapers, and turned to writing travelogues. My husband and I became world travelers and I wanted to share my experiences with more than my immediate family. From writing travelogues, I branched out to writing for glossy travel magazines such as Porthole Cruise Magazine. And from there, I began a career in writing travel features for on-board hardcover deluxe books that are placed in all the staterooms on the hundreds of ships that sail the seven seas. Cruise ships such as Holland America, Princess Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas, Windstar, Seabourn, and a few others.
In between all this, I was an avid reader of romance. Not sure when I decided that I could write a book, but it was obvious I had a lot to learn. So I joined RWA and a local chapter, a critique group, and attended conferences, workshops, talks, and bought out the writing book department at B&N!
Although Amazon Connection isn’t the first book I’ve written, it’s my first romance book published. (I’ve also published non-fiction local history books. But that’s another topic.) When I began writing Amazon Connection, it started out as a contemporary romance. But it felt as if I was just plunking my characters in a location for no apparent reason. I had to give them a darn good reason for being there in the first place, then a way for them to meet, as well as all the usual stuff that goes along with your typical plotting stuff.
Did I mention that I traveled to the Amazonian Region? Hmmm.
Anyway, while I worked at Cornell University I took a summer class on writing. One of the early assignments was to take a real life situation and say ‘what if’ and turn it into a fictional story. Well, I did a completely different story (another topic), but, what this made me do was to look at potential newspaper headlines for possible story lines. And, zing, it happened. I read an article about a pipeline that was going through the Amazon. And wasn’t I writing Amazon Connection?
So, ‘what if’ a U.S. company had the contract to put the pipeline through the Amazonian rainforest and a couple of disgruntled engineers working on the project decided to launder money from the Brazilian government and the U.S. engineering company? And ‘what if’ the head of the company sent his troubleshooter (hero) down to check it out? Now, ‘what if’ a grassroots organization sent their representative (heroine) down to make sure the company wasn’t encroaching the indigenous plants, animals, and people of the region? And ‘what if’ the trouble shooter suspected the grassroots representative of being in cahoots with the shady engineers?
Well, you get the idea of how it all came about. Trust me; it’s really not about saving the trees! It’s all about the adventure. And to pit the heroine and hero against each other and make it the suspense adventure it really is, I had to make sure that the location, which was pivotal to the story, was accurate, as well as making the reader experience what the characters were going through as well.
Which brings me to my topic for the day -- Location. Location. Location. Time and Place. Setting. Whatever you want to call it. Maybe it’s me. As an observer of the world around me (and the travel writer that I am) whether it’s local or around the world, I love to explore what’s out there, of being awed by the beauty, or lack thereof. And when I read a book, I am always curious to know where in the world those characters are meeting and falling in love. I want to know what it looks like, how it feels – the whole five senses thing. And I want to know how my characters react to their surroundings. BUT, I don’t need pages and pages of description to whet my curiosity.
From simple to exotic, city to country to outer space and beyond, description of location is important to any story. But how and when you incorporate it into your story is just as important.
For example, in Amazon Connection, I used the following method to describe the rainforest seconds before the hero and heroine find themselves stranded:
Up to this point, it is in the heroine’s POV:
“She turned to him then, and the concern on his face melted her heart. She looked around Jake’s broad shoulders to see what was keeping the guides. And froze. She had to be seeing things. Actually, the problem was, there was nothing to see.
The Story changes and continues in the hero’s POV:
Jake felt Holly tense. So much for having pacified her a moment ago. Even after last night, he hadn’t expected her to cave in so soon. He turned to follow her line of vision in order to see what had her frightened this time. He didn’t see a thing. No snakes. No alligators. Nothing dangerous. In fact, the view in front of him was anything but dangerous looking.
The late afternoon sun streamed down through the canopy and sparkled off the flooded interior, the dark shades of the rainforest alive with the hushed sounds of nature. Water lapped against the under story and the freshness of the open air made him want to raise his hands and welcome nature at its best. It wasn’t Alaska, but it was pure unadulterated heady stuff.
He looked back at Holly, ready to ask what had her in a tizzy this time. But, then it hit him. He twisted back around to the picture perfect scenery.
“What the hell is going on here?” he muttered.
“They’re gone,” Holly squeaked, rushing to his side. “Oh, my God, Jake, we’re stranded.”
Putting this scene in the hero’s point of view gives the reader a perspective into Jake’s personality and his thoughts about Holly’s behavior up to that point. Regardless of the point of view, it gives the reader the sense of being stranded in a somewhat ideal location -- a vibrant rainforest where maybe it’s not such a bad place to be stranded. Weaving the description of the rainforest around this situation works because the hero describes what he sees, then finally realizes what it is he doesn’t see. And, we also learn how Jake was reacting to the location. Although Holly has a somewhat different take on the same location as the reader learned earlier in the story.
Another great scene in Amazon Connection takes place early on. The hero and heroine are on a touristy-type alligator hunt at night. It was easy to write about it, because it really happened to me! But, the question was, how was I going to incorporate it into the story line? It took writing the entire first (second, third???) draft before I found a way. Sorry, to read this scene you’re going to have to get your hands on a copy (download) of Amazon Connection and discover the thrill of it on your own. I only say this because there is no way I can do it justice here in only a couple of paragraphs. Check out my website: www.carolhenry.org to find out how you can get your hands on a copy so that you, too, can experience this great adventure for yourself!
In the meantime, let’s get to today’s topic.
I’ve given you a brief idea of how I’ve incorporated ‘setting’ into Amazon Connection, which by the way is only one sample. Do you have a unique technique you use when doing this? Or do you have problems? Let’s discuss them.
Secondly, how do you find out about ‘real’ locations? Even if you’re creating a fictional town. Okay, so you aren’t a travel writer and you haven’t been to all these exotic locations, so how do you go about finding out what these places look like?
Here are some simple solutions on finding out about a location for your setting:
- Go on line and research your location. You’ll be amazed at what you find, including pictures of the area, maps, events, schools, government officials, and more.
- Like to read? Buy a few travel books on the location you’ve chosen for your story line.
- Write to the Chamber of Commerce and ask for information.
- Belong to a writer’s loop? Ask the group if anyone has ever been there. If it’s a large group, you’d be surprised at the feedback.
When you do travel, no matter where you go, here are a few more suggestions to think about:
- Take pictures just in case you decide to use that location later. Again, you can use these to create a fictional location. And with today’s digital cameras, you can snap as many pictures as you want, including the rundown areas, the quaint gas stations, churches, etc.
- Need a little get-a-way? Perhaps the location you want to use isn’t too far away and you can incorporate the trip into a vacation or a private writer’s retreat (my favorite).
- Take a tape recorder with you to record your observations.
- Something I always do, no mater where I travel, is pick up fliers, newspapers, maps, books, etc., anything that tells me something about the places I visit.
- And, always visit the visitor’s center. People there love to help, and to share their knowledge of the area. And a museum can tell you something about the area’s history.
All this material can be used to create hometowns, buildings, countryside, and other descriptions needed to build a setting around your characters. I have a filing cabinet full of just such information of places I’ve been. Or plan to go.
So let’s get started. Got questions? Got other tips to share? I’ll be here all day to discuss this two-fold topic with you.
Amazon Connection is available and can be ordered as an e-book or POD through The Wild Rose Press, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through your local book store. What’s next for Destination: Romance, and one of Carol’s romantic exotic adventures? How about China Connection! It’s in the works. You can visit Carol’s website at www.carolhenry.org to find out more about her, as well as join her on FaceBook where you can keep up with what’s happening in her neck of the woods.