Nov 26 2013 9:30am

Location, Location, Location: How Setting’s As Important As Character

Asking for Trouble by Tessa BaileyToday, author Tessa Bailey joins us to talk the importance of location. In her new release, Asking for Trouble, the hero and heroine have to be in the same place because their best friends are getting married—even though they can't stand each other. Or so they think...thanks for being here, Tessa!

A peaceful New England seashore. Post-apocalyptic London. A gritty, crime-infested Brooklyn neighborhood. The setting of a story can shape the tone, the plot and especially the journey your character takes. If a hero and heroine come face to face in a dimly-lit subway car, will the story have the same outcome as if they had met at the launch of the Space Shuttle? Unlikely. More than that, though, the story will feel different. Location transports the reader to a specific place where they will hear certain sounds, imagine the scent in the air, sense danger or even excitement.

One of the more memorable settings for a book in my recent memory is in Karen Marie Moning’s Iced. We are Dublin, Ireland, “After the Wall Crash,” meaning the invisible barrier separating human from Fae no longer exists. Human life has been lost, leaving the once lively streets of Dublin empty. Gutted. When I read this book, and I imagined our fourteen-year-old heroine, Dani, walking through looted stores, decaying buildings and holing up in abandoned homes, I could see it. I could sense the danger and sadness in every step she took through the decimated city. In this particular book, Dublin was a character all on its own. Around every corner was a new surprise, an event waiting to happen and it made the location feel like a living, breathing entity.

Similarly, in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, she utilizes the smoky voodoo vibe of New Orleans perfectly. It blends in seamlessly with the characters, spring-boarding them into their next round of mayhem. That series would not be the same without its chosen location. We’ve already suspended our disbelief because it’s paranormal romance, but somehow we’re not required to suspend is as much as if the series took place in, oh, San Diego.

When writers, such as myself, choose to set their books in a big city like New York, it sets a very specific tone. There is real sense of movement, not just physical, but time-wise. There is a faster pace to a city atmosphere and the characters have to keep up, even if they wish they could slow everything down and figure out what the hell comes next. There’s nothing soft about a city like New York, either, so I think the challenge a writer faces is to find those romantic moments, to create them out of something that might not be considered romantic at first. Say, for instance, a meet-cute in front of a hospital vending machine or locking eyes across a dingy dive bar in Brooklyn.

This reminds me of another one of my favorite Karen Marie Moning books set in New York City, Dark Highlander. Our hero resides in a dark, opulent penthouse overlooking the bustling city and immediately the location sets a tone. Without saying another word, we know he’s hiding in plain sight. One of the more fascinating aspects of a big city is you can be surrounded by thousands of people at any given moment and still feel completely isolated. You’re a single cog in a giant engine and you don’t know the function of any other part. The second our hero lays eyes on the heroine, this massive city is narrowed down to two people. To me, that’s the power of writing stories set in metropolitan areas. The city becomes a playing field and the two characters are simply navigating around each other, through the madness, waiting impatiently for that next meeting. Perhaps it’s all the more powerful because the odds of two soul mates finding each other among eight million people is an exciting notion.

Imagine a show like Sex and the City without New York as a backdrop. Or Revenge without the Hamptons. Or my favorite movie, The Sandlot, without the makeshift baseball diamond and its surrounding area. The hermit who lives behind the field, the giant dog on the other side of the fence. The field was just as much a character as any of those kids.

Location can be so much more than a backdrop, it can often be a major part of the story. It can create opportunities that wouldn’t be available in any other setting, but your own. Just like making out in the back of a taxi feels like New York, paddling side by side on surfboards feels like California. It shapes the conversation, the feeling the reader walks away with. Location is a character that rides shotgun with the hero and heroine, whispering in their ear where the next chapter will take place.

What series/book/TV show wouldn't be the same in another city?

Learn more or order a copy of Asking for Trouble by Tessa Bailey, out now:

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Tessa lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and young daughter. When she isn't writing or reading romance, Tessa enjoys a good argument and thirty-minute recipes.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Great post! My favorite Nora Roberts novels are the ones set in Ireland because while I haven't been there myself yet, I almost feel like I have when I'm reading her books. She's great with imagery.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I agree that Moning's Iced world seems like another character, it's so important. A book I read recently is Damon Suede's Hot Head, which takes place in Brooklyn, and the book really makes it come alive, and I recognize the places from being there myself.
3. TessaBailey
I love Nora Robert's books set in Ireland, too. Dublin is one of my favorite cities and I actually just wrote an NA book that takes place there. I have to check out Hot Head!
4. Kareni
It's difficult to imagine the J.D. Robb books taking place other than in NYC.
Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
I always loved Northern Lights by NR because of the setting.
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