Saturday, May 24, 2014

Adding Romance, Danger, Intrigue -- the Setting

This month's round-robin is about settings, and which ones stand out in memory. I often find setting understated in contemporary time frames, but perhaps unbeknownst to readers, contemporary settings can be just as difficult to imaginatively depict as any historical or future time. What I find interesting about contemporary settings is they eventually become historicals.

Most of the time the setting is a backdrop for the storyline, but one novelist's settings literal took over, and that was James Michener. I read his Tales of the South Pacific, Caravans, Centennial, and Hawaii. In Hawaii (even the title was about the setting) he began the story when the islands began to develop undersea. He introduced the Pacific Ocean: "Scores of millions of years before man had risen from the shores of the ocean to perceive its grandeur and to venture forth upon its turbulent waves, this eternal seas existed, larger than any other of the earth's features, vaster than the sister oceans combined, wild, terrifying in its immensity and imperative in its universal role." This is before he begins his description of how the islands themselves formed and how life came to the islands.

Hawaii is still considered one of the must-visit exotic places on earth for many travelers, so it is romantic. Weather, although most often perfect, can be dangerous for these islands, and then there is the volcano at the heart of the islands adding even more danger to paradise. Michener tells of these dangers, too, and then perhaps the most danger comes from inhabitants. He tells the stories of the first Hawaiians' trip across the ocean in outrigger canoes to discover the islands, the discovery of the islands by Europeans, the arrival of missionaries; interesting storylines, but once established, the setting never leaves the reader's mind. Michener's settings are so strong, I can always remember them, but not so much the actual storyline.

Developing the setting for fantasy and science fiction is called world-building, and it is a fun endeavor, and I have read many of these world settings that are inspired, intriguing, and dangerous, but the successful ones are most often based on some historical format and bits and pieces added to the storyline here and there, not like the huge chucks Michener so successful used.

For other views on the most inspiring, romantic, or dangerous settings, please visit other participating writers are listed below.

* Anne Stenhouse
* Diane Bator
* Geeta Kakade
* Connie Vines 
* Marci Baun 
* Beverley Bateman
* Ginger Simpson
* Margaret Fieland
* Fiona McGier


  1. Hi Rhobin, islands are so evocative. We have many off the mainland of Scotland in large groups. There're the Shetland and Orkney islands lying off the north coast and the Inner and Outer Hebrides to the west with St Kilda even farther out. visting them can seem very like a world building time. Anne Stenhouse

  2. Anne, I visited Scotland once but missed the islands. My grandfather and grandmother immigrated from Scotland, so I have a special love for the country and love reading books set in that location.

  3. James Michener does his word building with the powerful skill of a great writer.
    Thanks for drawing my attention back to the fact that writers need to choose their words with care and thought to really imprint scenes on the reader's mind.


  4. I LOVED visiting Hawaii and would like to go back again some day.

    Please also visit my Round Robin blog today on this topic:

  5. Sorry I missed you on the list, Heidi, you're there now.

  6. I love Hawaii. Matter of fact, my next vacation that's not camping or a road trip will be Hawaii. Of course, with a kid in tow, it won't be as romantic as it could be, but I am sure we'll still have fun. :)

    Thanks for organizing this, Rhobin.


  7. Centennial. How could I have forgotten the rich texture of the novel? Rhobin, thank you for including me in your monthly blog.

  8. What an interesting post. I love your take on everything is based on historical and your reference to Michener and Hawaii. It's a thought provoking post. Thanks Rhobin.

  9. I've never had the pleasure of going to Hawaii. Our vacations are more low-cost, so we go camping. Flying out to an exotic island seems like a dream come true. For those who like to armchair travel, Hawaii must seem like the ultimate destination.