If we’ve ever chatted about social media, you know I have always have two words of advice: GOOD CONTENT. And while I’m steeped in the world of traditional publishing, I’d be foolish to ignore wonderful insights from a smart, self-published author with a great voice, and I’d be foolish not to share it all here. And if I know one thing — I know I’m no fool!
Please welcome Kathy Lynn Harris to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Where You Plop Those Characters Down Can Kick Your Work Into High Metaphoric Gear
Or, the Importance of Place in Women’s Fiction
By Kathy Lynn Harris
It’s no secret that women’s fiction is largely character-driven; our main characters and supporting casts are often richly drawn women (and men) who experience the full range of emotions. That’s no accident, of course; we writers spend hours and days and weeks and months and even years perfecting those characters to become ones readers truly care about.
And then we plop those characters down in an interesting setting that hopefully evokes a mood and grounds our characters in a time and place. Maybe it’s where we’ve grown up or somewhere we’ve visited often—because we’ve been told it’s good to write what we know. Or maybe it’s an exotic location (South Africa, anyone?) or a hip location (I’m looking at you, New York and the Outer Banks) that can add a little extra oomph to the plot.
Or maybe, just maybe, we think a little bit deeper about our setting in the early stages of the manuscript—making it just as critical as (gasp!) character and plot.
After all, women’s fiction characters are usually asked to overcome some pretty hefty adversities (bless their imaginary hearts). They could feasibly overcome those troubles anywhere. But I’m here to pimp out (too much?) the intrinsic value of setting, and this is my plea: A well-chosen setting can serve to intensify a character’s reactions to those bad times, and to the delight of every college freshman who has to write a critical essay about it, even become a metaphor for the entire theme of the book.
In my women’s fiction, Blue Straggler, the story begins in South Texas and moves on to a high mountain town in Colorado. Both of the settings provide emotional landscapes for the main character, Bailey, who is on a roller-coaster-like journey of self-discovery. For me, it was important that readers really feel how Bailey was feeling, and setting was a really good way to pull that off. South Texas is flat and hot and sticky and so humid it can be hard to breathe at times. It can feel claustrophobic. And it represents how Bailey is feeling about this place she’s called home, even if she can’t verbalize it at the time. In contrast, when she arrives in the Colorado mountains, her life slowly becomes wide open and large, full of possibilities, yet constantly presenting challenges she never anticipated. She’s on an upward trajectory. Just like those high peaks around her.
Of course, don’t just take it from little ol’ me. Think about the strength of purpose of the setting in The Help by Kathryn Stockett, where place is as much a character as the characters themselves. Think of Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier works, where rural Kentucky is an unmistakable metaphor for isolation and lack of hope.
The bottom line is that setting can be a surface-level attribute to a lovely story, or it can be this awesome, so-deep-you’ll-need-another-glass-of-wine-to-think-about-it thing that takes both character and place to a whole new level. (Okay, the wine reference may just be me, but you get the point.)
I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on this, so spill in the comments section below, pretty please!
P.S. Thanks so much, Amy, for having me on your fantastic blog! I’m so honored to be a guest here. I know you typically focus on traditionally published authors, so I’m especially jazzed to be representing the indie world.
Other ways to catch up with Kathy:
Twitter – @KathyLynnHarris
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/BlueStragglerFiction
Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/kathylynnharris/