Wednesday Writing — Unexpected Settings

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

10 pool people

 

Welcome, everyone.  I hope you’re ready to take on this midweek hump and then coast down the other side.  Although, taking it easy doesn’t mean we can’t still think and learn. 

Speaking of thinking, let’s ponder storytelling.  One way to make your story stand out is to set it in a location that is outside the usual places where movies and books take place.

This post is about using unusual or unexpected settings in writing.

2 city hall

I’ve done it before, but my settings either came to me with the story idea, or in the case of blog serials, they were inspired by the random reader things that drove those serials.  However, in my novella, A Peril in Ectoplasm, I made a conscious decision to use an unexpected location (Coral Gables, Florida). I’m also sharing some images I made for the interior of the book.

The unusual setting is worth the extra work.  As some of you know, A Peril in Ectoplasm, is a 1920s story.  For that Jazz Age setting, one usually thinks of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or maybe Paris — large, well-known cities.  Using an unexpected location as a setting requires a little more research.  If you’re also using a past era, it takes a lot more digging to unearth the information you might want or need.  I had already chosen Coral Gables, Florida.  Little did I know how much extra work the location would cause, but it was worth it.

Go deeper than the location/city.  A way to keep a story interesting is to include unexpected scene settings.  An example of what not to do would come with many “locked room” mysteries, where every scene takes place within the house where the body was found.  It’s easy for a writer to fall into this trap with any kind of story.  We often see characters or events play out in one of a handful of places where the plot takes us.

It’s not unusual for us to see scenes in homes, or restaurants, maybe outside in a park.  Where else do people think, or talk?  Continuing with my own example novella, one character-development scene has Crespo in his car, driving.  Another has three characters laying details onto the mystery — and their discussion takes place in a streetcar.

4 streetcar

Don’t simply state where, give details.  Just saying so-and-so is on a trolley or driving his car doesn’t give you much mileage.  Give a brief description of that setting to make it come alive.

     The coral-pink streetcar slowed to a stop at the corner beside the Gables Gazette.  Several passengers disembarked….   …Then the young reporter turned back and politely assisted her onto the trolley.  He made sure she was comfortably seated on the smoothly polished wood of the seat.

     “We’ll just ride for a while,” Phineas replied and handed over some tokens, adding that he didn’t want to hold up Albert while they decided.

Or…

     The Daimler Coupé glided up the road as smoothly as the sea breeze.  The Double Six 50 engine easily took the hill toward the old Moultrie mansion just outside town.

     Hill — a hill by the standards of flat Florida.  It’s really more of an upgrade, Crespo thought and snorted.

     He began to whistle the 2/4 syncopated beat of the Danzón, the favorite music of Cuba.  Thinking with satisfaction about his increased expectations, he rubbed the center of his pencil moustache.

Do you see?  It doesn’t take much description to trigger the reader’s imagination of a more detailed scene.  With just the “smoothly polished wood” (and the prior knowledge of the 1920s era), didn’t you have a mental picture?  Did knowing the automobile “glided as smoothly as the sea breeze” along with its powerful engine let you feel how luxurious it was?

3 causeway street

Can you think of some unusual settings where a relevant scene might take place? Suppose your story includes a marriage proposal.  A standard scene might happen in a fine restaurant.  Although, what if the prospective groom acts spontaneously and proposes while he finally has built up the courage… and that moment happens at…  A funeral? While sheltering under a doorway during an earth tremor?  In a grocery store checkout line?  In their bathroom?

Suppose there’s a stealthily committed murder in a who-done-it. Libraries or offices are frequently used, so are bedrooms.  However, what if it happened in the attic? In a crawlspace? In the backyard shed?  In a retail stockroom? 

Maybe there’s a fistfight.  Instead of a schoolyard or a barroom, or even a swimming pool, what about on-over-and-behind the counter at a Post Office. It’s a place where anyone might go, and there are lots of things for throwing. In a mass-market toy store or a lingerie department. A padded bra wouldn’t pack much of a punch, but you might poke somebody’s eye out with an underwire.

Have fun imagining your unusual and unexpected settings.  Friendly comments are encouraged.  Wishing you an easy coast down the other side of this midweek hump.  Hugs.

A Peril in Ectoplasm ouija kindle promo

Seances, a psychic medium, warnings from a ghost, a manipulative fiancé, a woman who can’t go home, an older woman who might lose her job and home, a freakishly strong woman with a soul tie to an evil entity. All these things and people come together in 1920s Coral Gables, Florida.

♦ ♦ 

 

“A Peril in Ectoplasm: Just Once More” Universal Purchase Links

Kindle: relinks.me/B0BJ9N1GBX

Paperback:  relinks.me/B0BJBXGJ7L

♦ ♦ 

 

Copyright © 2022 and 2023 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved. 

No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

All images are either the property of the author or provided by free sources, unless stated otherwise.

 


78 thoughts on “Wednesday Writing — Unexpected Settings

  1. Great points were made here, Teagan. I am always trying to find unique settings for my Amanda stories. Picking a country to set the adventure in is easy, but then I need places in that country for it to play out. I often wrack my brain to come up with new ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my points, Darlene. I know you are a fellow researcher.
      Your Amanda stories aren’t simply entertaining, they help kids learn geography. I think the cities you’ve used are great for that. Some of those cities are large enough that Amanda could revisit with a focus on a particular quarter.
      Personally, I think Amanda could have a wonderful time in Key West (seeing the sunset in both the west and east), or New Orleans (maybe choosing the less famous Garden District).
      Annapolis, MD is a very interesting looking city and has a naval yard. San Francisco’s China town would be exciting for her. Or maybe even Kitty Hawk, NC (the Wright Brothers, but also a “Children @ Play Museum”). I’m just throwing those out there. You’ve probably already considered them yourself.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great writing tip, Teagan. You do choose unusual settings and they’re memorable. I totally agree that adding details to make them pop is worth the effort. I have to go back to my WIP and add a couple of interesting details to the setting. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article and I suspect one I should pay heed to as I am often a little too reserved in my choice of locations (many popping up repeatedly my novels) but the odd one is quite wildly harsh and exotic as the highlands of Scotland can be) But that every book involves a scene in a pub I think tells you something….Lol both about Scotland and me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome Ray. I really don’t see anything wrong with that. The first advice I followed was “Write what you know.” Scotland is such a rich setting, anyway. (I admit to some bias, since on one side, my ancestors were from there.) Although I can see how it might feel their home was not an unusual setting. I’m still chuckling about the pub. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. These are all good points, Teagan. Thank you for sharing them with your readers.

    Ghosts in cities – Rick told me a story of when a relative lived in NYC and was up on a step ladder for something. When he came down, he saw an apparition, a man with a long beard and bohemian style clothing. The man promptly disappeared. I suppose NYC should be full of ghosts of all kinds!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a reader I love different settings, it really adds another depth. I usually stick to the mountains, but have veered off to North Dakota and other ateas I’venever been. It does require more research but worth it. Great post, Teagan! Xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mountain settings are inspiring, Denise and so is your work. Mountain settings don’t feel common place to me. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with backdrops that we know well and motivate us to create. As someone long ago said, “Write what you know.” That’s why most of my stories are set in southern states. Thanks for reading and commenting. Hugs.

      Like

  6. Teagan, a superlative post reminding us about the gift of location and the importance of subtly creating a unique and memorable setting without this dominating the story. Your examples are terrific and I became hooked reading them – you paint a whole era with just a few words – truly a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmmm – does the male lead proposing to the female lead in front of her burnt out cottage count? (Must point out it hasn’t just burnt down they’ve returned to retrieve something).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re imagination has shifted into a double clutch overdrive (if such a thing exists). Great examples–he knelt down as if to propose on the deck of the bargain cruise liner. Her hand flew to her throat, he deftly shoved her elbow, sending her hurtling into the wake roiling up from the ship’s four propellers.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great examples and very good advice, Teagan. I always find myself immersed in your writing, and this is an example of why that happens. Thank you so much for sharing thoughtful lessons like this. I have to tell you, I laughed at this funny scene of someone taking an underwire bra off the rack and someone else saying, “careful, you could put an eye out with that.”

    I hope you have a nice slide into the end of this week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those things are dashed uncomfortable. They’ve always seemed like a potential weapon in my twisting brain. 😉
      Thanks for your great feedback Dan. Your use of the bowling alley in The Dreamers Aliance series is an excellent example of an unexpected setting. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was actually thinking of the swimming pool fight between Alexis and Crystal in the 1980s Dynasty TV series. There were quite a few fistfights in pools after that.
      Although if a man put a diamond ring in the bottom of a pool as a marriage proposal, expecting the woman to dive in, there might well be a fistfight. LOL.
      Have a great rest of the week, GP. Hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. This is fantastic, Teagan. Your examples of how to use unexpected settings are excellent and very useful to writers trying to bring something extra to their stories. Having read A Peril in Ectoplasm I can confirm that the setting is an added asset to the already gripping story. And the attention to period detail makes readers feel as if they had stepped back in time. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your wonderful feedback, Olga. I hated to use my own book as an example. There are many terrific examples out there among my author friends. I just didn’t have the energy to pull together that kind of post.
      Thanks so much for your kind words. Hugs.

      Like

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