Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Characters and Setting by Sherri Shackelford

A friend of mine is working on a 'how to' book about writing and I've been pestering her to let me 'critique' the chapters. Not because I think I can help, but because I always learn something. I just finished reading her chapter on 'Setting' this weekend. As usual, it got me thinking.

Setting can be an integral part of a story. In my first book, Winning the Widow's Heart, the setting was isolated and the backdrop was winter. Those elements were woven so tightly into the story, if the editor had said -- "Change this to summer!" -- it would have been a time-consuming rewrite.

 now available in large print

When you're writing a series of intertwined books, people become familiar with the setting. They walk the boardwalk of your town and sit beside you in church. As much as the buildings are a part of the story, the characters  also become a part of the setting.

While each book in the series has its own unique Hero and Heroine, we look for those characters to drift in and out of subsequent books. Readers often request stories for their favorites.

If an author tires of the main setting--say a town, he/she can always pluck a character from their nice, safe existence and give them an adventure. Since readers are already familiar with the hero and/or heroine, they will follow them across the earth!

The trick is keeping the details straight. I have a single sheet of graph paper where I've set out the genealogy of my reoccurring characters: Names, dates of birth, who is deceased. Over the past year that paper has become quite saturated.

Think of the hugely-popular series, Downton Abbey. We have our favorite characters, and we eagerly park ourselves before the television each week and watch their stories unfold. The writers are savvy, and they add the occasional scene-stealer into the mix.

Personally, I adore a good series. I've read Sue Grafton from "A" to "V". I devoured all three books in the Love Inspired, Irish Bride Series. (The Wedding Journey, A Baby Between Them, and Mistaken Bride.) And I can name dozens more examples. 

Readers love series! We love them because they're familiar, like coming home.

A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.

She's busily typing away on the second and third books in her Cimarron Springs series, and will release all the details as soon as they are available.
Facebook/Sherri Shackelford 


  1. Hi Sherri,
    I love to read your books and this post about settings was interesting, thanks for sharing. How true it is about the place as well as the characters. I get immersed in a book when I read and setting is just as important as the characters to me.

    Paula O(

  2. Hello, Paula!

    First, Thank you!

    I enjoy when the setting can become almost a villain in the piece. Bad weather, rough conditions, difficult circumstances :)

  3. Great thoughts, Sherri. Setting and the characters' interactions with it bring life to a story. And you're so right--readers (and authors)love revisiting familiar settings and following favorite characters to new and interesting places.

    Interesting cover for the large print edition. I'd think the title would be larger print, too. :)

  4. We're having storms and tornadoes in GA today. Great setting for a suspense. Dark clouds, blustery wind, weather watches until late this evening.

  5. *lizzie, you make me smile :)

    Debby, I love a good thunderstorm! Not necessarily a tornado...

  6. Great blog, Sherri! As a Downton Abbey fan, I agree you are so right about recurring characters. They are what bring us back to a tv series over and over again too, from NCIS to Bones & Castle.

    I'm reminded of all the Debbie Macomber books set in Cedar Cove (I think it is).

  7. Sherri,
    What's your addy? I've got some socks for you.
    I simply must buy the first season of Downtown Abby. I'm hearing so many good things.

  8. Cheryl, did you see last week's episode of DA??!!! Oh, My!

    Pamela, I need a craft that utilizes mismatched socks. I could make a fortune on etsy :)

  9. I enjoyed your post, Sherri! Love series too--it seems the setting and characters come alive more (at least in some series). The Mitford Books (by Jan Karon) are some of my very favorites! (And yes, I'm a Downton Abbey fan too---except after this last episode I was so devastated I'm having second thoughts *sigh*). ~ Blessings, Patti Jo

  10. Hi Patti Jo! I cried last week during Downton Abbey. I'm not ashamed to say that!

    And think about it, the show is *named* for the place that holds such a prominent place in the storylines. I want to eat in the dining room and plot out back with Tom :)


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