Setting, Not My Decision

I have five middle grade novels, each story taking place in a completely different setting. Where did these settings originate? One might think that, as the author, they all came from the same place: my imagination. But in thinking about "setting" for this blog post, I wondered if that's really the way I would describe it. 

The settings of my five books are: the neighborhood of an any-town-USA-type place in summertime, a school setting at the beginning of a new school year, sleepaway summer camp, the Okefenokee Swamp in the 1930's, and finally, rural Florida at the start of summer vacation. At first glace, it might look like these places don't have anything in common, but they actually all share something very important. The setting of each book is the only place each of my main character's story could take place. 

As I contemplated the origins of my settings for this post, I realized that my characters are the ones who choose the time and the place of their stories. Even as the author, I don't have the freedom to just put them anywhere. Each main character shows up in my imagination, and then, who they are, the stories they have to tell, and where those stories happen "fleshes out" more and more as I, first jot down notes, and then eventually write a first draft. 

I would describe the way this happens as one of those "magical" components of creating stories that become books. Not magical in the sense of it happening without any work, because it takes lots of work to get the setting right, with just enough authentic detail so that it rings true for the reader. But magical in the sense, that, it's a hard to explain exactly how my character lets me know where her story happens. But I like it that way. The "magic" in the creative process, the parts I'm not really able to explain, are my very favorite parts of writing.


Happy Reading & Writing,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh 


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