Place as Character

Revision involves a lot of math, I’ve learned. Sometimes, it’s about adding that one thing that was initially missing and then subtracting what isn’t necessary.  There is so much to calculate. Authors divide their stories into sections.  We strive to multiply emotional connections, to (groan now, go ahead) compound interest.    

And what of equations? (Okay, the metaphor ends now. Promise)  Well, there are six main elements to fiction:  character, setting, plot, conflict, point of view, and theme; how these elements entwine is dependent on the author’s style, the story’s voice and—to a certain degree—the book’s genre.

I write Gothic mysteries, so I strive to add a considerable amount of atmosphere to my work.   Place can be a presence, can set a mood and can alter how characters interact.  The setting itself can instill conflict and direct the plot.   Themes may be seeded carefully in a novel by being mindful of exactly where this story is set.  

Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will be publishing my mystery next spring.  My novel is set in Northeastern Ontario, and my husband jokingly said I should apply for a grant from ‘Destination Ontario’ for promoting our province in the way that I have.  My book is chockfull of all things CANADIAN, save for back bacon and beer stubbies.

What I’ve done is to use both the broader area and one location as characters. 

The woodlands that surround ‘Bliss River’ (my fictional town) play a large role in my story.  I describe not only the gorgeous landscape but also much of the flora and fauna in the region.   I felt that some readers would enjoy Northern scenery, some glimpses of forests and wildlife.  Again, however, this is about balance.  Too much IS too much.  (Albeit, I teetered on that fine line.)

The old parsonage where my story takes place is undergoing a renovation, but a stop-work-order was issued.  Things are half-finished.  Some rooms have barely been touched. 

My main character, Annora Garde, is an art conservator who is used to working in labs.  She is cleaning a moldy mural to help solve a sixty-year-old cold case.   The parsonage is in disarray, appears in some areas to be safe, hospitable and somewhat refined.  But other areas in the building hide toxicity.   Because even a building can keep a secret 😉  

My advice to new writers is to consider where your story takes place.  Alter your perspective whenever you can.   Pan out, if possible, and include that wider perspective, then zoom in close, closer, even closer.  Setting is three dimensional—so give your readers a map and let them explore. 


The Northern Lights