Guest blog: Jacquie Rogers

20 Aug

Let’s Talk About Setting

by Jacquie Rogers

Copyright © 2011 Jacquie Rogers

Many genre writers start with setting.  Yes, they say they start with characters, or with situations, but the truth is, if you’re writing a Regency, it’ll be set in England between 1811 to 1820, give or take.  If you’re writing a Scottish Medieval, then it has to be set in Scotland between the 5th and 15th centuries.   If you’re writing a Western, it’ll be set west of the Mississippi, usually sometime after the first wagon train went to Oregon and before automobiles.  If you’re writing to the commercial market, the setting needs to be marketable.

So yes, many of us do start with setting.

Setting is far more than a time and a place.  Woven properly into a story, it becomes a character in itself.  Louis L’Amour was a master at this.  Why am I thinking about it?  Because I’m changing the setting of one of my books from Wyoming to Idaho, and what I discovered is that not one page of the 400-page manuscript is unaffected.  While it’s frustrating, my critique partner pointed out that if this weren’t true, then my story would have been a simple costume drama, one that could be plunked any time, any place.

Let’s contrast that with my current release, Much Ado About Marshals, which is set in 1885 Owyhee County, Idaho Territory.  The seeds of the idea came to me when we came back home to see relatives and while there, visited some local sites.

I grew up there, so I’d been to Silver City many times, but this visit sparked my imagination.  What if a desperate bumbling cowhand botches up a bank robbery, is saved by his sensible friend, but then his friend is shot?  Hmmm.

Setting and character were on equal footing at this point—couldn’t have one without the other.  Why?  Because the bank and its proximity to the other buildings in Silver City were firmly a part of the story.  Besides, the sensible friend is Cole Richards and he has a ranch on Sinker Creek.  The bumbling cowhand is Bosco Kunkle and he’s Cole’s best friend.  Okay, so I moved geography around a little.  Writers can do this.

As I contemplated that scenario, we stopped by Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Oreana.  Even though I grew up not far from there, I never knew that the church was originally a general store.

(To read more about the history of the church in Oreana, here’s the Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church website:

Aha! In my imagination, I saw a vivacious young woman run down the steps, carrying a package.  She has a purpose and no one can stop her.  Her name is Daisy Gardner.  The store is Gardner’s Mercantile, owned and operated by her father.  An aside note—I’ve always thought Oreana was the prettiest name for a town, and so I envisioned a lively little town full of fun characters.  It was the perfect place for Bosco to take Cole for medical care.

And no, it’s not on the way to Sinker Creek from Silver City, so I moved it, too.  We writers have the power, you know.  Most people who aren’t writers wouldn’t connect the dots like we writerly people do, and they sure wouldn’t prattle on for nearly 100,000 words about it.  But we are strange birds, aren’t we?

So let’s say the editor wanted this story set in Boston.  First problem is law and order—they had some,Owyhee County wasn’t nearly as “civilized.”  (Many would contend that’s still true, but in my opinion it depends on your definition.)  At least 50% of the events could never have happened in Boston.  Worse, Cole would never have been accepted by the city fathers, and Daisy would’ve been ostracized for her behavior.  This story simply can’t be moved.

What about the story I’m moving from Wyoming to Idaho?  Truth is, I wrote this story before I understood the true power of setting and even if I’d left it there, the setting needed a lot of attention.  All the story required was a one- or two-building town that’s a day’s ride from a city (so not in Silver City), in cattle country, and not on a well-traveled stagecoach line.  The name of the book is Much Ado About Madams and I found the perfect town for the floundering brothel—Dickshooter, Idaho.  Just gotta do it.

But it’s not as easy as all that.  The distances require altering the story timeline.  Ever done that?  I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.  And I might have to change history a little, because I’ve yet to find out when Dickshooter was settled and named.  Also, I’m moving the story ahead five years, so reference to external events that really happened, or presidents and the like, all have to be changed, as well as how those events or people affected the characters.

Luckily, the original setting is high mountain plains, and the new setting is high mountain sorta desert.  The real challenge will be finding people for customers.  Currently, not many people pass through.  I might have to move Dickshooter, maybe to the Delamar area or somewhere on Cow Creek.

The point all this is to not underestimate the value of setting.  How do you use setting to the best effect in your stories?


One commenter will win a free copy of Much Ado About Marshals.  Also, if you send notice that you’ve posted a review to, you’ll get a sneak peek of Much Ado About Madams.

Buy links for Much Ado About Marshals

Amazon * Smashwords * B&N


Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Idaho


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22 responses to “Guest blog: Jacquie Rogers

  1. Janis McCurry

    August 20, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    Great blog about the power of setting. As you said, it oftentimes becomes a character. The Idaho setting book sounds very interesting as well as historical. Thanks so much for visiting Gem State Writers.

  2. Clarissa Southwick

    August 20, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    Hi Jacquie, I’m so looking forward to reading this book set in Idaho. I can’t imagine changing the setting after a book is already written. Good luck with the revisions and thanks for guest blogging on the Gem State Writers.

  3. Carley Ash

    August 20, 2011 at 7:22 PM

    Interesting blog. Thanks Jacquie.

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 21, 2011 at 4:13 AM

      I just figured out I could reply to each comment. Duh. Anyway, thanks, Carley, and best of luck with your writing!

  4. maryvine

    August 20, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    I love westerns, too. Fun to see the process of setting in Idaho. I had to stop and check out the Church in Oreana. Maybe I’ll make it to mass there in Sept. Thanks, Jacquie!

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 21, 2011 at 4:16 AM

      They really did a nice job with the restoration, Mary. The church doors were closed so we couldn’t light candles, but maybe next time. I wish the walls could talk, though. I’m sure there are many stories to tell. There’s also a stone saloon, barely large enough for four or five men. They must have done most of their imbibing outside.

  5. Jacquie Rogers

    August 21, 2011 at 4:10 AM

    Thanks, Janis. I have several stories set in Idaho. Here I was–couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge, and now most of my stories are set right where I came from. LOL

  6. Jacquie Rogers

    August 21, 2011 at 4:12 AM

    Clarissa, I hope you enjoy the book. 🙂

    Yes, changing the setting is a daunting task but a series needs to be connected in more than name only, hence the change. And no, I never, ever plan to do this again!!!

  7. Donna Carrick

    August 21, 2011 at 4:27 AM

    Great article, Jacquie! For me, every story is a three-legged stool that cannot stand without equal parts character, plot and setting. Passion for these elements is what inevitably makes for a worthwhile novel.
    Donna Carrick
    author of The First Excellence (set in China)

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 21, 2011 at 3:35 PM

      Donna, I agree and that’s exactly why I’m always puzzled with the character vs plot discussion. Does the author not know or care what century or continent the story is set? Seems just as important as the other two to me.

  8. nwwphd

    August 21, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    If one thinks of a plot that is, something happens, there must be a cause. That cause becomes a character. Somebody or something causes. Donna is right on.
    Norman W Wilson, PhD
    Author of The Shaman’s Quest

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 21, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      Norman, yes, and setting can often be very much part of the cause, or contribute to the difficulty of the hero’s solution to the problem. If setting is only a background, then you have a costume drama.

  9. Gerri Bowen

    August 21, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Great post, Jacquie. Setting is an important part of the story. When I see my character’s clothes, that’s when I know where the story takes place. Funny, because they won’t go to a different era in history. Has to be the one where I’ve ‘seen’ them.

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 21, 2011 at 3:43 PM

      You brought up another point, Gerri–so many of us are visual. All my stories start out visually, not just a character somewhere in time, not just a situation any old place, but a specific image of a character in a specific time and place. That’s why the image of Daisy’s determined pace as she came out of the general store was so vivid. I saw the stone building, the plank steps, the dusty street. I saw the package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string, and to a lesser extent, I noticed what she wore. Her character evolved from that vision of her posture and how she walked, not the other way around.

  10. Lori

    August 21, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Really excellent points, Jacquie! I found this all especially true for my current ms. The setting is everything and starts right at the opening. It helps to set the whole tone of the book.
    Great job reminding us how important setting is.

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 21, 2011 at 3:47 PM

      Lori, that’s true. I think most of us use setting to set the tone and we don’t even notice it. I went to Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshop where he analyzed the movie, Casablanca. He pointed out that every single scene has stripes in it, usually vertical. Sometimes these are window blinds, sometime they’re shadows, but always they remind us that these people are caged in. Wow. I’d love my story settings to be as powerful as that.

  11. Marsha R. West

    August 22, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Great post, Jacquie. I write present day single title romantic suspense, and the locale plays a role. It matters whether the characters are suffering through a super hot Texas summer or lost in the Vermont woods during a snowstorm. I liked Donna’s comment about the thre-legged stool. Balance is the key.
    Good luck with changing the setting, Jacquie. Sounds like a huge job.

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 22, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      Thanks, Marsha. Best of luck with your books!

  12. Judith Laik

    August 22, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    Setting is a very important part of a story. It affects the overall mood and it affects who the characters are. Yorkshire moors, Arizona desert, Canadian Rockies. They each create their own, powerful images in the reader’s mind (and the author’s.) Totally different stories arise, with characters who grew up there, or at least live there, also being changed and influenced by their environment. It all has to be woven together. Thanks for making me think about this anew, Jacquie!

    • Jacquie Rogers

      August 22, 2011 at 7:58 PM

      Judith, You’ve made me think about it plenty, so favor returned. 🙂 Yes, our characters are a product of their environment. Daisy Gardner wouldn’t have fared all that well in Regency ballrooms, However, a heroine of the same personality type could have done well with her wings clipped a bit. But not Daisy. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Linda Hope Lee

    August 22, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    Very interesting article. Most of my books start with the setting, places I have visited, more often than not, small towns in the Northwest. If a setting intrigues me, then I think about the people who live there, what they do, and what their problems might be. I always give the town a fictitious name, though. For example, the town in my Treasures of the Heart is based on Sequim, but I changed the name to Seaview. I visited an art gallery there and wove the story around that. I love to travel and am always looking for new settings. Don’t think I’d ever want to change the setting after the story is written, though, as you are doing. You are brave!

  14. Jacquie Rogers

    August 22, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    Linda, thanks for stopping by! (Everyone, be sure to check out Linda’s books!) I haven’t changed the names of towns but I move them to suit my fancy. I figure people who live there can read the Author’s Note and know what’s going on, and the rest won’t care, anyway. Of course, these towns have a population of less than 50, counting dogs and chickens. But if I wrote a story out of my childhood stomping grounds or in a larger town, I’d probably change the name, too. It’s sure a lot easier.


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