Someone recently said to me that creating a sense of setting when writing about Hawaii is easy. In fact, I don’t think that writing about Hawaii is any easier than writing about other locations. In some ways, it’s harder. It’s easy to be captivated by Hawaii’s fabulous sunsets and surf along the beach, but it’s still the writer’s job to make the setting come alive.
In Photo Finish, the first real setting description comes mid way through Chapter 1 when McKenna, the protagonist, is sitting on his lanai watching the sun drop below the horizon. “Gentle trade winds brushed across my face, whispering their island secrets. The sky grew darker, dimming to pinkish grays and purples. White lights from a yacht streamed across the ocean on the distant horizon.” There’s nothing inherently magical or exotic in this description—we’ve got some wind, the sky getting dark, a few colors in the sky, and that pesky yacht.
What does bring this description alive, however, is the linking of those visual elements with the character through the reference to trade winds whispering their secrets. By involving McKenna in the description, the description becomes more relevant. There’s no reason why that same involvement couldn’t be used in a scene on the Texas plains, a sleepy village in Kansas, or a back yard.
Character involvement is all well and good, but how does that make it harder to write about Hawaii as a setting? It all comes down to reader expectations. In a book with exotic locations, the reader expects to get vibrant descriptions. Therefore, the bar is higher than when the book is about an unknown or drab place.
When I read about different locales, I’m always delighted by vibrant descriptions that also help to convey information about the character and that move the plot forward. However, I get bored when the writer bogs down in excessive details that paint me a detailed picture, but don’t tell me something about the character or where the story might be going. In other words, the writer becomes infatuated with the setting and gushes about that instead of staying focused on characters and story.
Have you read a book where the author did a particularly good job of conveying that sense of place? Why not leave a comment and pass the name of the book along so others can enjoy it too?
Photo Finish: Wilson McKenna’s newest tenant is hot, gives great hugs, and just saw a dead body being thrown from a plane. McKenna’s not one to get involved in other people’s problems, especially those of a woman half his age, but before he knows it, he’s volunteered to track down the plane and its owner. In no time, McKenna has uncovered an island drug ring, pissed off a sociopath, and set himself up as the victim in a beautiful woman’s con that could cost him his life.
Trouble? Oh, yeah. McKenna’s found it. If only trouble didn’t have such great legs.
Terry Ambrose started out skip tracing and collecting money from deadbeats and quickly learned that liars come from all walks of life. He never actually stole a car, but sometimes hired big guys with tow trucks and a penchant for working in the dark to “help” when negotiations failed.