In storytelling, however, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of place. In fact, setting is the point from which many stories begin. Who can forget Manderley or Tara? Middle Earth or Narnia? The Bounty or the Orient Express? Those settings inform what the characters say, who they are and who they become, how they interact with each other, and all of the dramatic action in every scene. We can’t imagine those stories set anywhere else. The novel I am currently revising was inspired by du Maurier’s Rebecca. I hadn’t read it in years, and though I didn’t remember every single plot point, I vividly remembered the house–Manderley—where it was set. I knew I had to create an unforgettable setting, too, before I could even tell my story. The fictional town of Sunset Isle, closely based on Sunset Beach, works perfectly for my story.
Martha Alderson, author of The Plot Whisperer books and the website A Path to Publishing, has made me think about place in a different way. She points out that in all good stories, the main character must enter an unknown world (this might be an actual change in location or an internal new world) for the story to move forward. While my main character physically moves from Maine to North Carolina in the course of the story, that’s not really when she enters the unknown world. She does that at the locker that once belonged to a girl who drowned and who now appears only to my main character. Wouldn’t your world change if a ghost appeared only to you?
Are you a writer? Where is your story set? What unknown world does your main character enter? Where does s/he start, and where is s/he at the end of your story, both physically and emotionally?