Wednesday, April 14, 2010

L is for Lock 'Em Up!

If you've ever read an Agatha Christie novel, you'd understand how important location is in suspense. Her books like the Orient Express utilize setting to the utmost as a tool for driving the story forward. When you think about it, the principle applies to all writing. I know that most writers like to concentrate on character and plot, but setting can make or break a story. The wrong setting can deflate the suspense or confuse the reader.

One thing that Agatha Christie often did was “L” is for Lock up her characters; whether on an island, or on a train, the characters were a captive audience. As a result, so was the reader. Riveted by the imminent, inescapable danger lurking in an enclosed area, I kept turning the pages into the wee hours. She never wasted the opportunity to turn her setting into a living, breathing member of the cast. Spooky, and suspenseful, Christie was a master of using setting like another character in her stories.

Think about novels that you remember well after reading. Chances are the author didn’t neglect the setting. Whether it was the steaming moors of a sweeping love story, or the gritty streets of a detective novel, the setting worked to set up the story. Great writers use setting as a way to move their story along a certain path.
Let’s say you set up your story in a stranded ship. It sets a creepy tone. The characters have to evade one another or pair up to keep safe from a killer. Throw in the fact that they are running out of food, or the ship is sinking and your setting creates natural conflicts for your characters to overcome. No let’s say that the ship is in the path of a storm, and that the only way to be rescued is to be out in the open on deck. Your setting just put your characters in danger, both from the impending storm, and from the killer.

I encourage you to take a look at how your setting plays a part in your work. Is it incidental, or instrumental? Could it be Anywhere, USA, or is the location a major factor? I’d love to know what you come up with.

Dont forget to sign up on the side bar for The Primal Scream Blogfest - Your Most Heart Pumping Scene! The Blogfest will take place on May 5th...can't wait!

Until next time, Go Write!

Photograph by wili_hybrid, Uploaded on March 16, 2009. Photograph by ~MVI~, Uploaded on August 24, 2008


Sophia said...

I was thinking about this earlier in response to a post on setting elsewhere. I concluded that my setting was vague, an awareness I already possessed but had not articulated. Considering a possible theme of the story is constance versus change and the setting is an integral part of the idea of constance, I should really be investing more into it. Unfortunately since my investment in the project as a whole is mediocre (I'm thinking of it as practice) it means researching location is not a top priority.
For future short stories I'm mulling over, setting is one of many things I'm looking forward to writing.
- Sophia.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Interesting comment, Sophia. I wonder, as a short story author, do feel that there are different rules and expectations that for longer fiction? I have the luxury of pages to set up a scene, whereas you do not. I'd love to know what you think.

Wanda said...

Raquel you offer some great advice to writers.

Eric W. Trant said...

Ah, setting!

What a great, quiet little blog you have here, Raquel. I'm happy to be one of your top-20 followers! I rang up as #13 on your blogspot folks. My lucky number eh.

Anyway, this is a great, thought-provoking post. Lock-em-up, eh. I've been pondering a stranded story, such as an island, a distant moon, a space or navy vessel, something that truly isolates the reader and the character.

Maybe that'll be the inspiration for my next piece, be it long or short. Lock-em-up!

- Eric

Gregg said...

You know I have never read an Agatha Christy novel. I am not a writer either. However as a speaker I look for ways to "lock em up" with the text so that the text can hold the congregation captive.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I probably could've placed more emphasis on location.

Grammy said...

Oh, Yeah! Location is a big factor in any story. The setting is one thing that teachers always stressed when we were assigned a story to write in school. Good post!

Ellie said...

I love Agatha Christie; I have noticed Stephen King used this
technique in a few of his stories.
The movie the Mist, where everyone is trapped in the grocery store, had a similar impact. Who do you trust,
distrust, who agrees with your ideas, who is against you. It sets all the characters up to be on guard!
Great post~

Not enough hours! said...

Dame Christie loves the Locked room mystery, doesn't she? The first story of her's I ever read was Mousetrap (I think I was 13 when I read it), and that had me hooked.

~ Rayna

Patricia Stoltey said...

Setting is almost a character in some novels -- I love that. Whether reading or writing, I want to feel part of the story. I can't do that unless I know where I am. You make some great points.

Watery Tart said...

Great post! I fell in love with reading when I read The Shining, which is ALL ABOUT setting--the setting of course, in THAT, is LITERALLY a part of the action (unless of course Jack is just going insane, but then, Danny sees things too). My first novel, CONFLUENCE has two key setting features... a new city for my primary family, where when they realize there is a problem, it is unclear who they can trust, and then a PLACE called the Confluence (an old mine located between two rivers, just before they meet. Oh yeah... LOVE the setting being part of the story.