Please welcome authors Karen Whiddon and Beth Cornelison to my blog. They have a new book out today called Rock-A-Bye Rescue. Be sure to stop by your favorite bookstores and grab a copy. Karen gives us some insight into characterization and Beth tells us about setting. Take it away ladies!
It was a dark and stormy night… Using setting in story
by Beth Cornelison
It was a dark and stormy night…
Ah, yes. The trite opening line that even Snoopy, in his Great Writer persona, used to set the stage for his novel. Why? Because setting, when used to the fullest advantage, is an important element of a writer’s toolbox. What would Rebecca be without the mysterious and austere Manderley? Would Star Wars be the same in a galaxy just around the corner from Earth?
The setting of a story, used to full advantage, affects the plot and the mood and can reflect a theme in a novel. In To Love, Honor and Defend, one of the first books I published with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, the stark cold weather, gray skies and bare trees mirrored the feelings of isolation, fear and betrayal my heroine felt. Setting can also be used for contrast, thereby highlighting some aspect of plot or character. In Healing Luke, my grumpy and bitter hero glares irritably at the bright Florida sunshine early in the story, showing the reader the truly dark place his life had reach.
Knowing the importance of setting, when I set out to write Rock-a-bye Rescue with Karen Whiddon, I knew we needed to pick a setting that would complement our story. I needed my characters to be cut off from help for a period of time, to feel alone, with the chill of fear and suspicion hanging over them. This sort of scenario is becoming harder and harder to believably achieve in the real world. Cell phones, the Internet and GPS tracking have all made keeping in touch and staying connected with the world easier. While this is great for real life, it makes the job of a suspense writer harder!
Instant communication doesn’t allow your heroine to feel suitably cut-off from help and reliant on the dark and mysterious hero who shows up at her door. The potential for a climactic battle of life and death holds less tension if a call to the local police could bring help in a matter of minutes. To build a sense of danger and suspense for Guarding Eve, I needed my hero, heroine and her infant charge to be essentially on their own for a significant period of time— enough time for danger to find them and pose a threat to life and limb. Circumstances had to be just right, and an essential element to framing and plotting the story was the setting. But how? A natural or man-made disaster, geography, or failure of technology?
After an exchange of emails, Karen and I chose the mountains of West Virginia where finding a cellular signal is difficult. But isolated mountain roads and a cabin tucked away in the woods were not enough to isolate my heroine in the modern world. So I added a significant ice storm that would close steep and twisty roads, knock out power, and strand my heroine and baby Eve. In addition, the treacherous roads provided a means for the bad guys to escape captivity, setting the suspense plot in motion. Karen seized on these elements for her story as well, and we had the foundation for plotting our “babies in jeopardy” novellas.
Rita Award finalist Beth Cornelison made her first sale to Harlequin in June 2004 and has gone on to publish many more books with Harlequin/Silhouette as well as other publishers. Cornelison has presented writing workshops across the United States, and she currently lives in Louisiana with her husband and three spoiled cats. For more info about her books, her latest news, recipes and photos, visit www.bethcornelison.com.
Characters Are People Too
By Karen Whiddon
When Beth and I got together to write our joined novellas for the Harlequin Romantic Suspense 2-in-1 Rock-A-Bye-Rescue, we decided on setting and backstory first. Then, while Beth worked on developing her characters, I worked on mine. We’d mutually agreed to make the villain two brothers, with one coming after her couple and the other coming after mine.
For such a short book, I knew I wanted to have my characters former lovers. Nothing better than to throw two people with unresolved issues together and watch sparks fly! Most of my stories start with the people. My hero Garrett Ware lives for his career as an FBI agent. He’s never stopped loving my heroine, Michelle Morgan, but the differences that tore them apart five years ago seemed insurmountable. Most importantly they broke up because she wanted children and he, raised by an abusive drunken father and fearful mother, didn’t. He believed he didn’t know how to be a father.
Michelle has always been a nurturing person. She looked after her baby sister as best she could, and wanted nothing more than a family of her own. When her sister Lydia was taken in by a cult leader, believing she loved him, Michelle moved to a nearby cabin in case Lydia wanted to get out. Unfortunately, Lydia is killed, but not before she bears the cult leader a baby. The baby is delivered to Michelle for safekeeping while the FBI and police search for the escaped cult leader and his brother.
With the setting Beth mentioned earlier – remote location in the West Virginia mountains, a crazed bad guy wanting to kill an innocent infant, I added in a blizzard to ratchet things up a bit more.
So we have a couple who never stopped loving each other trapped together in a cabin. A woman who now has her greatest desire, a baby, but at the cost of losing her sister. And the man charged with protecting them, about to come to terms if love can be greater than fear.
A writer can have the most beautiful setting in the world, the most dangerous villain, and an intricate plot, but without people we can root for, who can make us ache when they hurt and laugh when they feel joy, the reader will feel something’s lacking. That’s why it’s up to the author to create believable, sympathetic characters, like Beth and I did in our stories.
Award winning author Karen Whiddon spun fanciful tales for her younger brothers as early as the age of eleven. Growing up in the Catskill Mountains of New York, then the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, she found enough magic in the rugged peaks to keep her imagination fueled for years.
Now making her home in North Texas, she shares her life with her hero-like husband and four doting dogs. In her spare time she volunteers for Legacy Boxer Rescue, Inc. She has published over 45 books. Currently she writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and Harlequin Nocturne.
You can email Karen at KWhiddon1@aol.com