|Matanuska Peak and Lazy Mountain|
My house is surrounded by two ranges - the Chugach and Talkeetnas. Mat Peak and Pioneer Peak are over 6,000 feet. You can hike them if you dare but there are no roads through either range. Each year, a dozen or so people die from reckless snowmachining - usually bc they caused an avalanche. And avalanche beacons don't work in 50-feet of packed snow.
My parents live in Nova Scotia on the other side of the continent.
|Random Nova Scotia fishing village|
Alaska: rugged, trackless terrain. 85 mph winter windstorms that last for days are common.
Nova Scotia: gentle, road woven coast-line. Windless, foggy winters are common.
So how does this setting affect people? In a very general way:
Alaskans (non-Native): ornery, independent, occasionally on the lam or half-crazed with stubborness, gun-toting individualists who are always on the move.
Nova Scotians: polite traditionalists, insular, law-abiding, family centered folks who live in the house their great-grandparents built.
While I started to write my last MS, I knew I had a lot of culture clash to work with. What I didn't know was how the conflict would develop my setting. Or how the setting would push my conflict. My MC is yanked out of her Alaskan lifestyle and into a new Nova Scotian family. On the surface, they're her blood relatives. But underneath, she couldn't be more different. One of my goals was to show how setting, where you live, the culture whose values you share, drives character.
Beyond knowing the basics of each culture (which is key before any of the rest of this will work) here are a few techniques I used:
Weather. My characters' moods were mirrored in the weather. If the scene was happy or romantic, the sun was shining or setting. For murder/mayhem - fog/wind/rain.
Speech patterns. Check idioms and regional phrases - do people say 'some' instead of 'very?' How would someone from Australia say, "That's really cool" ? Authenticity will deepen the appeal of your writing.
Architecture. What's the typical home look like in your location? What makes it unique - high roofline, arched windows, cedar siding, big porches? Is there a widely known building/location you could write a scene around?
Local customs. Do people kiss each cheek when greeting each other? Do they kick off their shoes before entering a stranger's house? Maybe there's a favorite bumpersticker a lot of people from one area have. (Where I live, it's "Alaska Girls Kick A&*" among others....) How could you work those customs into your writing?
Food. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the same is true for a reader. Tell us everything about a meal - the scents, the flavors, the textures and colors - and we're right there with you. Everybody loves a good meal. Think: Under the Tuscan Sun. Mmmmmmm....if you can make it work with your plot, go for it.
Clothing. I hesitated to add this last bc seriously, nobody walks around naked even in fiction, but I think clothing is an important part of setting - especially if you write anything but contemporary. From Katniss to Scarlett O'Hara, what our characters wear says a lot about what's happening to them and when.
IMO, these are the writers whose worlds make mine fall away, whose setting wraps me up in a nice blanket of escape: LM Montgomery, Elizabeth George, Beverly Cleary, PD James, Rosalind Pilcher, Maeve Binchy...plus two Alaskan writers, Dana Stabenow and Heather Lende. (Heather is joining me Friday in honor of Alaska Book Week. *squeal!* Check out this link for more goodies showcasing authors from the Last Frontier.)
So who are your favorite atmospheric writers? And how do they do it? What are the elements of your setting? (And DO sign up for the Casting Call blogfest over at Carrie Butler's blog. It's going to be a blast!)