How crucial is setting in a story? How would The Hobbit feel if we didn't know anything about Middle Earth's mountains and forests? What impression would we feel reading The Jungle if the gritty landscape of the city was drawn out of the story, leaving us with only the characters? Would Needful Things sound any different if Castle Rock faded away into obscurity?
The setting of a story takes us away from out world, and puts us in another. We might know this new world, or we might not. It might be a real place, or it could be a complete fabrication. But the setting of a story provides the framework for the journey we are about to embark on. A recent trip forced me to examine setting in my own stories, as well as the inspiration behind those settings.
Having returned from a trip to Arizona, I really started thinking about setting in the grand scheme of writing, as well as my own writing. I thought back over the years to all the different places I had traveled to and the way those places inspired my writing, creating new settings for my characters and readers to explore.
The Triker Forest in my Chosen of the Light novel, Spirit Summoner, was deeply inspired by one of my earliest visits to the Hoh Rainforest on the Washington peninsula. As a child, I was taken aback by the darkness of those forests, which in turn inspired me to write more detail in the Triker Forest of my own book. Before the Hoh, my Triker Forest was a mere obstacle to be overcome, but after, I had found a new setting, and the Triker came alive and dark. It became its own place in my book.
Yellowstone was another huge source of inspiration for my young mind. The sheer strangeness of the park, coupled with its own natural beauty, gave me ideas for how to construct the landscapes in my own book. The wastelands of the Karahesian were rooted in the blasted hot plains around the Mammoth Hot Springs. The Barricade Mountains found an origin in the mountainous area around the Lower Yellowstone Falls. I remember little from my first and only trip to Yellowstone, but some of the landscapes left a deep mark on me, and it bleeds into my writing still.
Sometimes, I think setting can become a little overwhelming, as well as the inspiration behind it. In one of my earliest drafts of Chosen, I found myself inspired by the time of year around me, specifically Christmas time. The cold in the air, the sounds of music and smell of pine, and the feel of generosity inspired me to write a similar type of holiday into my draft. I was a young writer at the time, and looking back, I know why I eventually cut this setting out of my book. It simply did not fit. Sometimes, you have to choose what stories to focus your inspiration into.
Despite my best efforts, the sights of Arizona have inspired me as well. From the stubby little trees of the Coconino Forest, to the bare rocks and plains around Pheonix, to the red rock trails of Sedona, I came to realize that I've never really explored a desert landscape in any of my writing. Here was a place rife with potential, that conjured up any number of stories, and I could think of virtually no writing of my own that had made use of such a setting. I'll definitely need to change that, and soon.