Guest post: Setting as Character

Beth's head shot-2Today I welcome my friend and fellow novelist Beth Ziarnik to my blog. I interviewed her when Her Deadly Inheritance Debut. I was quite intrigued with how her setting played into her plot. Her setting had a life of its own like her characters did. I’ve asked her to share how she built her setting character.

Exploring Setting as Character

Finding the right setting for a novel is crucial. I fell in love with Grand Island, Michigan sight unseen while reading Beatrice H. Castle’s The Grand Island Story. A fascinating wilderness island with a rich history, it remains sparsely settled and somewhat isolated. Perfect for a romantic suspense novel.

I also wanted a small paper mill town, and Munising fit my story’s needs: friendly, hardy people who love their city, are patriotic, hold old-fashioned values and dive into community events with humor and zest. Perfect!

After I read everything I could, my husband and I visited, and I knew I had my novel’s setting. It was romantic: waterfalls everywhere, magnificent color-banded cliffs, and an abundance of wildflowers, crystal clear waters shimmering in a sunset, fireworks lighting up the evening sky. As for suspense: evening fogs provided an air of mystery, while danger lurked in the waters of Lake Superior. Famous for fierce storms that break iron ore ships in half, it also stays cold enough to freeze the bodies of those who drown. They sink to the bottom where they remain. No wonder Lake Superior has earned its reputation of “never giving up its dead.”

I still needed a house with nooks and crannies and other interesting features to serve my story. Let me just admit it. Rather than borrow one already on the island or invent one of my own, I “ripped off” Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut. Yup, I borrowed its floor plan and features—making a few minor adjustments—and plunked it down on Grand Island’s east coast across from the island’s “thumb.” If you visit Twain’s house, you will find most of it like Jill’s house on Grand Island. If you try to find it on Grand Island, you’ll be disappointed. No such house exists there.



Cliff of Grand Island


However, you can visit those island features that appear in Her Deadly Inheritance. William’s Landing, Echo Lake, the island cemetery, and the cottage where Jill’s father stayed one summer are all quite real. So are the storms Jill experienced along with their unusual features.



Grand Island Forest and Road


You can also visit the settings for scenes in Munising. Most should still be in place as they were when my husband and I made two on-site research trips: the café, the little church, the parade route, the ballpark and nearby boat docks, Powell’s Point and the ferry, the nursing home, the post office, the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration at Bayshore Park, and even the tiny bridge over the creek nearby.



Streets of Munising


So, how then does an author take setting and present it as if it were another character in her story?

During those two visits, I not only took pictures and notes. I also soaked in all the sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes, and unusual features of the island and town until those settings came alive to me. Not able to visit Mark Twain’s house, I found house plans and photos and read about the people who lived there. In my imagination, I walked through the house until it, too, came alive for me. Then I fed all this into my heroine’s and my hero’s hearts and let them experience it.

I’m now in the process of doing the same with my second novel because I truly believe setting is an important character in any romantic suspense novel. It sets and enhances mood, and provides unique features that help to make my stories vivid and alive.

HerDeadlyInheritanceColor-2About Beth:
A long-time fan of romantic suspense, Beth Ann Ziarnik offers her first novel Her Deadly Inheritance with all the twists and turns, cliffhangers and romantic tension she and readers have come to love. She is a co-founder of Word & Pen Christian Writers in Northeast Wisconsin and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. In addition to her 450 published pieces (several included in anthologies), she is the author of Love With Shoes On, her ten-year devotional column about love in action and based on 1 Corinthians 13.

Link to her

About Her Deadly Inheritance:

Winner of the: 2016 Writer of the Year Award at Write to Publish
First a runaway. Now running for her life. Won’t Jill Shepherd’s family be surprised when she returns to Grand Island, Michigan to end their lies and scheme to have her declared legally dead? But when Jill exposes the mastermind behind her intended death, her family’s deception may kill any chance she has of remaining alive.

Clay Merrick may seem to be little more than a handy-man restoring homes, but when the former Special Forces operative tracks a brutal killer to Jill’s historic house under renovation, he has most of the evidence he needs to bring the killer to justice … until Jill gets in the way.

When the killer sets sights on Jill as the next victim, it’s not just Clay’s mission on the line, but his heart.

What setting in a novel took on a life of its own matching wits with the characters in a novel you’ve read? Why was it a great addition to the novel?


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5 thoughts on “Guest post: Setting as Character

  1. elainemcooper says:

    I love this and truly, the setting in Her Deadly Inheritance was a character in itself! Thanks for sharing your setting research. Don’t you love perusing out of the way places? Beautiful…


    • I like your spirit of adventure. Maybe you’ll take it that one step further as one of my sisters did. While vacationing in the area, Aimee visited Munising and Grand Island, searching out the various places I used for scenes in Her Deadly Inheritance. Enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

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