Monday, September 16, 2013

Digging Deeper: Sensational Settings



For my new column, Digging Deeper, I'll be sharing treasures that I've unearthed while researching the 17th through 19th centuries in America and England for the fiction I write.

I figured the best place to begin is to discuss settings in fiction, which are not always fictional. A well-appointed setting can help a writer chart their course through the story and help readers feel grounded in time and place.

The literary element "setting" encompasses the geographic location and the historical period in time which a story takes place. It creates a backdrop for the plot and somewhere for the characters to exist. In my post Novel Setting: Pattern for Romance I have illustrated how I incorporated setting into my recently released novel set in colonial Boston. Below are some picture collages of antique jewelry to serve as an analogy using rings and brooches and show you how to create and identify sensational settings.

Click on the images for larger viewing.

These rings all depict examples of a setting that displays a unique stone. Like the jewels in the setting, so your characters will be with every facet of their given personality. Historical fiction authors strive to provide a a setting that is true to the period and "rings" with authenticity.y

Three of the rings in the collage are lovely, but not a genuine antiques. Although the Castle ring in the center is a nice illustration of a self-contained setting, its description is misleading. The ring itself is of a 16th century castle, it is not a ring from that time period or place. This illustrates that one must verify information through proper research. So if you are guessing, the vintage cut-glass ring (lower left corner) and the New Zealand textile (heart shape) ring are more recent, but there's a place for that, too.


We all know about a certain precious ring of great literary fame. A writer's words are precious and painful to lose and even revise, when necessary. A reader can always count on the fact that each word was labored over greatly. While an author knows that the art of discerning which words to use can cost much.

Let's view the next collage to see what we can learn about our settings. Following the numbers down, from the top left corner let's evaluate each of them, for what they're worth as examples for teaching us about setting for historical fiction.


1.  Prismatic Ring - Be careful not to over do it with your lavish prose. You might lose your story...and a reader.
2.  Mood Ring - A great setting can establish the mood for the story.
3.  Poison Ring (Medieval, Bulgaria) - You might kill your readers with a lethal dose of heavy and archaic language and dialect.
4.  Souvenir Ring (1830) - You don't have share everything you discovered in research. That can lead to a lot of bunny trails and distracted readers. Transport readers with relevant details.
5.  Painted Ring - Don't brush on the setting after the fact. You'll have a flat presentation. Works for this ring by Artworks by Flowerleaf, but not for story setting.
6.  World's Fair Ring (1904 Lousianna Purchase) - A specific backdrop such as an interesting event makes a super setting.
7.  Poesy Ring (17th/18th c, "Time Shall Tell I Love You Well") - Use your setting to help convey the theme of your story with subtle richness and metaphor. You can also share customs by including objects like these in your story.
8.   Novelty Ring (Tallest man on earth) - The novelty will wear off quickly if you "tell" your setting instead of "show" it. Share it naturally, through dialogue and some introspection.
9.   Envelope Ring (1881, holds tokens of love and memorial keepsakes such as hair of loved one) - Period appropriate expressions of sentiment touch the historical reader's heart and create memorable moments.
10. Steampunk Ring - Be sure that your setting is true to the period including inventions, language, fashion, architecture, events, customs, and other bits of culture. Readers do pick up on factual and fictional errors.
11. Signet Ring (German, 1570) - Let symbolism and imagery ring true. Remember, it must be true to the historical era that you are writing about.
12. Sundial Ring (possibly German, 1570)- Historical events can help ground the plot, occupy your characters, and show the passing of time.
13. Antique Ring - This antique ruby ring was like the ring worn by a character in Stephen Bly's novel, Stuart Brannon's Final Shot. Author Laura Frantz also featured the tradition of gifting a poesy ring like the one in image #7 in one of her novels. (Pinterest, online auctions, and antique dealers are a great places to get inspired - and not just for rings!)
14. Cameo Ring (Renaissance) - To create interest, feature true life persons without fear. Readers love it when they recognize historical figures.
15. Lover's Eye (England, late 18th c) - Show the setting through the perspective (POV) of the character who owns the scene. She can't see things about herself the way he does, nor can he.
16. Portrait Ring (William Shakespeare) - There is no writing like yours so avoid the temptation to sound like those you consider better than you. Let your own original voice sing!
Center Image - Portrait Brooch (18th c, glass and metal) - An attractive setting will show off the story character's qualities and help us to know them better.

Georgian ivory boat surrounded with garnets.
Now take a look at these cameos brooches to see what influence a setting can have on characters.

We all want to see a larger than life hero or heroine, but  the setting must support them, unlike the top too images. The center cameos shows an ample setting with better balance. Be sure that the setting does not detract from the focus of your scenes and emphasis on character. Though the center brooch is lovely when considered as a metaphor for setting it just might distract and compete with the characters and plot. Rather, (see lower image) bring the story and characters to life by framing them with a settings that radiate and enhance your novel.

TIP:  Setting serves the story not the other way around.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned about how an author give readers a glimpse into the past through the magnificent settings of their stories!




One more thing, whatever you do, be careful not to do this! Caption the image and share in the comments.





Carla Olson Gade writes Inspirational Historical Fiction and is celebrating the release of Pattern for Romance and Mistletoe Memories. She enjoys history, genealogy, graphic design, and photography and sharing her writing journey at Adventures of the Heart.

 (Note: Most images from Pinterest, unless cited, additional source unknown.)

16 comments:

Pat Iacuzzi said...

Hi Carla--

These are absolutely gorgeous! I kind of favor the fabric ring with the roses!;)

p.s. I just left you an e-mail about "Pattern for Romance"; also am ready for Mistletoe Memoirs!

Thanks for this great post (and carrying things for me on Friday at CQ! :) Have a blessed day!

Carla Olson Gade said...

Thank you for stopping by, Pat! Got the email!

chaplaindebbie said...

These rings are so fascinating! I am sure you know which one is my favorite...the one with the ship on it. Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

Carla Olson Gade said...

Yep, I knew that Chappy! I was thinking of MaryLu and you when I saw it!

Sarah McBride said...

I love the pretty heart with roses in it :) Also, of course, I like the One Ring from Lord of the Rings. Thanks for sharing these!

bonton said...

Such an interesting, & informative, post - Carla! Some beautiful rings - thanks for the pics.

Amber Perry said...

Carla, this is a treasure trove of information--excellent post! :) I will be studying this one a lot, I imagine. Thanks again and God bless!

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Excellent post, Carla. Full of fascinating information. I love the rings.

Carla Olson Gade said...

Thank you all, for coming by and your kind comments. I hope the analogy will be useful. Don't you just love looking at all of this antique jewelry! The creativity is amazing!

Elaine Marie Cooper said...

Carla, what an inspiring post! And your "final ring" image (LOL) is the "I'm tearing my hair out from too many edits" ring. ;-) Blessings and thanks for your great research.

Great Lakes Romances said...

Thanks for this post! I enjoy rings, especially the antique kind since my engagement ring (given to me in the fall of 1971) was created from my husband's grandmother's antique brooch. It's a one-of-a-kind, just like each writer's story, setting, characters, and voice. Wonderful advice and lots of eye candy here to go with it!

Carla Olson Gade said...

"I'm tearing my hair out from too many edits." Precisely what I was thinking, Elaine!!

Carla Olson Gade said...

Donna, thanks for sharing about your engagement ring. How special! One of a kind, yes, just how our stories should be. Unique and with an exquisite setting.

Amber Stockton said...

Wow! Look at all those rings. Stunning and some of them rather eccentric. I'd never wear certain ones. :)

As for your final ring and a caption: "Don't overwhelm the reader with too many facts and details that they get lost in the information and forget about the story."

Carla Olson Gade said...

Great caption, Tiff! That could be a hair-raising experience...frustrating the reader.

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