Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Setting: Does It Matter?

When you’re reading a novel, what’s the first thing that grabs your attention?

Is it the characters? The genre? An interesting take or twist? Or could it be the setting?

For me, it’s often a combination of the above. If there are interesting characters, I’ll keep reading a novel that might have a plot I’ve seen a dozen times – after all, there are only so many basic plots. (For an interesting article that summarizes the different theories, go here.) But I love a book that transports me somewhere, that seems like a vacation in a book even if it’s a suspense or thriller. 

With Shadowed by Grace, I had the pleasure and challenge of recreating multiple locations across Italy, a country I long to visit, but missed on both trips to Europe. So how could I create a landscape I’ve never seen, but readers have visited? Lots of research. And then more research. And after that a bit more.

I also had to recreate Italy during WWII. So I couldn’t simply look at how Italy looks today. I had to locate photos, descriptions and more from that time. As we all know, places change. The open field behind my house ten years ago is now a subdivision with 100 houses. Imagine that kind of change on a grand scale over 70 years. 

How did I do it? Here are a few tips:

Look for the right websites. Several scenes were at Montegufoni, a castle in Tuscany. I read about it in books, but also found the website for the castle. In its history it contained information about murals that were added in the twenties. Those show up in the book. Poking around the photos gave me a great idea of the layout of the castle. I did the same for scenes at the Vatican.

Read the right books. I stumbled on a great diary written by a British woman who lived in Tuscany during the war. Her journal gave a vivid account of what it was like for Italians in that region. You can imagine my excitement when she mentioned the Monuments Men by name in her diary.  My stack of research books seemed massive, but each one added detail that made the book more realistic. 

Decide which details to incorporate. All of that setting research creates an abundance of information. Not all of it should be included. What will make the setting more real for people who have been there? When I wrote A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, I included information about the clop of horses’ hooves and the strong smell of fudge. Anyone who has been to the island could connect with those sensory details. For Shadowed by Grace, I focused on the destruction of Naples, the juxtaposition of a castle stuffed with refugees and the buzzing planes overhead. Each detail had to serve a purpose, in this case making the setting more real. 

Cara C. Putman graduated high school at 16, college at 20, and completed her law degree at 27. An award-winning author of seventeen books with more on the way, she is active in women's ministry at her church and is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. Putman is currently pursuing her Master’s in Business Administration at Krannert. She serves on the executive board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), an organization she has served in various roles since 2007. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana. You can connect with her online at: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads

About the book: 

Rachel Justice is desperate to save her dying mother. She doesn’t want to leave her, but she accepts her newspaper’s assignment to travel to Italy and photograph war images. No one knows her photography is a cover and that Rachel is really seeking to find the father she never knew, hopeful to get some help with her failing mother. Dedicated to her mission, Rachel is focused on completing it. Soon, though, she finds her priorities and plans changing when she is assigned to Lt. Scott Lindstrom, on mission as a Monument Man. Their meeting will have far-reaching consequences. Will this derail her plans? Will she ever find her father? Is her faith enough to carry her through?

People can read the first chapter here.

The Borrowed Book is giving away a copy of Cara's newest book this Friday. Join in on the fun!


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