How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters


How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters


How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

Mary's post on Monday was wonderful. She started with an amazing opening about women running for escape, women running for their lives, for freedom, for a chance to get out from under the cruelty of an evil stepfather.

She drew me in instantly.

So I'm going to talk about setting today, a setting strong enough to embrace and support those unforgettable characters we work so hard to create.

I'm choosing contemporary settings... it's different for a historical because the setting is unique to the time. Current day settings are beset with modernisms and that changes things, something I've discovered as I'm prepping my early Love Inspireds for the indie market.

From "Rebuilding Her Life", book one of my final Love Inspired series "Kendrick Creek"

How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

Hello, childhood.

Jess Bristol sucked in a breath as she steered her rental car along mountain roads she hadn’t seen in years. Curve upon curve, the lush Appalachian forest floated by on her right while a winter valley stretched wide on her left. Beautiful. Bucolic. Pastoral.

But when she hugged a bend that took her further down the mountain, the Manhattan trauma doctor's breathing went tight for a different reason. The aftermath of the recent forest fire surrounded her. While some things had been completely consumed by the raging inferno, others had been randomly skipped over, leaving a tree here, bushes there. But not much had escaped the fire’s wrath along this stretch, and the sleepy mountain town below—her hometown—had taken a nasty hit.

The late December fire had started high in the hills and swept down, fed by a strong east wind. Around her, the remnants of that two-day blaze lay haphazard and dark against the fresh falling snow.

Burned trees and ash peppered what had been a pristine landscape. She’d seen the news reports and her mother had sent several pictures of the recent disaster that had besieged the area. But the photos hadn’t done it justice.

Devastation sprawled to her east, west and south. The fire’s path had traveled straight for Kendrick Creek, the Tennessee mountain town she’d called home for over two decades. From here she could see the swath of wreckage along this edge of the fire. It hadn’t burned the whole town, but it had ruined enough. In a little place like Kendrick Creek, it didn’t take much to have a huge effect.

This was this opening to the story.... You know Jess is a Manhattan trauma doctor, you know she was raised in a little Appalachian town and that she's coming home...

But it's the setting that takes the day and sets the stage. Destruction. Ruination. Remnants of a wind-fed fire that left homes, businesses, churches and Christmas decorations in rubble...

That opening setting has set a backdrop for the angst of the story. Whatever else happens, the reader knows that it occurs in the backdrop of disaster... leaving the story and the series ripe for redemption and renovation. 

BOOK TWO: The Path Not Taken:

How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

I've seen folks say "never start a story with weather..." I expect they mean rote weather, you know, this kind of thing.... "It was a cold, wet, rainy day. Gayla searched for her umbrella. She needed it. Otherwise she'd show up at work looking like a wet poodle because her hair always crinkled more in high humidity. 

The car.

She'd left it in the car which meant that she needed to run a block down the road to get to the umbrella. And the car."

So let's re-do this opening to make the setting pop:


Not just any rain.

Stinking, pouring, drenching, pooling rain and when one lived in a busy city where folks selfishly parked their over-priced cars over the lines so normal people had to park a block away, a storm wasn't just an inconvenience. It was an entity.

Sprawling leafless trees bent in the wind. They weren't dancing. There was nothing Joyce Kilmer-poetic about these trees. They were angry. Pure and simple. Thrashing their arms to protest their lack of protection.

Her, too.

Her umbrella was right where she'd left it last week, on the back seat of the car. The car she'd parked over a block away. The umbrella was laying quite comfortably on the back seat. Safe. Warm. Dry.

The opposite of what she was about to be.

She had no choice but to make a run for it.

The wind tunneled, total Chicago, lashing her, soaking her. Strong enough it probably would have turned that cheapo umbrella inside out and then it would have joined the hundreds of other useless umbrellas dotting Chi-town's metro garbage pails every April.

She missed the green light at the corner and had to wait, chin tucked, eyes down as the north-south traffic hurried toward its destinations. 

The light turned.

She knew better. She really did. She'd been working in the city for over three years, determined to make a name for herself, so she knew to look left then right before stepping down.

Her bad. And his, the guy who hurried through an almost red light, late for whatever.

The wall of water didn't just splash her.

It bathed her. Top to bottom. Stem to stern. Even inside the  ugly boots. And she had absolutely no choice but to keep on going.

And after biting back some really bad words, that's exactly what she did.

So this is how I see setting. I see it as an integrated part of the scene, not something separate or generally poetic and descriptive. More like another character, action-packed, boring or soothing, the setting creates an imminent feeling in the reader.

Debby Giusti uses settings in her suspense novels and she does it beautifully. Whether it's the alleys of a city or the thickly forested hills, when Debby sets a scene, you feel the threat approaching, even if the scene is light... you know the shadows loom.

Setting is huge for reader satisfaction. Think of it as another character, a changing one, and don't over-sell it... make it work with and for the scene either as a villain...

Or a friend!

BOOK THREE: "A Foster Mother's Promise"

How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

Multi-published, bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne is busily writing mysteries in her very snowy, cold Western New York home. She is enjoying the peace of winter because warmth brings work and Ruthy runs/owns a pumpkin farm with her husband... and that makes the quiet of winter a lovely thing! She loves to chat with readers and writers. Email her at, swing by her Facebook page (although she is generally annoyed at social media, but she does love to share cookies, cakes and Ruthyisms!!!) or her website at 

Leave a comment below and Ruthy will tuck your name into a really cute Southern style hat for a Support Your Favorite Author $15.00 Amazon card.... so you can grab one or two books you've been longing for and just couldn't quite let yourself do it!  


25 Comments on Seekerville: The Journey Continues: How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

  • kaybee
    on February 09, 2022 | 07:44 kaybeesaid :
    "Ruthy, I appreciate these teaching posts, both this one and Mary's on Monday. Just what we need to keep us sharp. I do historicals right now and you're right, the setting is unique to the time and there are certain conventions one can expect from, say, the Oregon Trail. Within those constraints I've had some fun creating my own Oregon Country town, a mud-ridden hamlet my characters land in and try to make better. Talk about rain...
    Yeah, never start a story with weather unless it's relevant. Your selection had me grabbing at hot tea and warm socks!
    And never start a story with someone waking up -- or end a chapter with someone going to bed. That's classic.
    Kathy Bailey
    Your Kaybee
    Reviewing the basics in New Hampshire"
  • Beth Jamison
    on February 09, 2022 | 07:57 Beth Jamisonsaid :
    "You had me at 'hello'. :) "
  • Jan Drexler
    on February 09, 2022 | 08:34 Jan Drexlersaid :
    "Our settings don't need to be background dressing for our stories, and you've shown that so well!

    I know what I'm going to be doing - taking another look at how my characters interact with their settings...

    We never stop learning, do we?

    Thank you, Ruthy!"
  • Glynis
    on February 09, 2022 | 09:23 Glynissaid :
    "I love it when I can feel and smell and touch where the character is. And like Kathy, that rain scene had me wanting to batten down the hatches :)"
  • Sandy Smith
    on February 09, 2022 | 09:48 Sandy Smithsaid :
    "Great post, Ruthy. I will definitely refer to this with my writing. I am currently readingThe Path Not Taken. I love this series. I am especially enjoying it now as I was in the Smoky Mountains in September for my niece's wedding. So this story really takes me back there. It is a beautiful place. I pre-ordered A Foster Mother's Promise from my bookstore when I went to work there yesterday! Please put me in the drawing!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 09, 2022 | 13:27 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Hey, Kaybee! A few reminders are good for us, aren't they???? And I can't wait to read Mary's new series!!!!!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 09, 2022 | 13:27 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Aw, you're so stinkin' cute!!!!!!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 09, 2022 | 13:29 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "I love it when the setting grabs me so that I feel like I'm immersed.... or at least understand it from the character's pov.... because we could so easily change up that storm if the character was staying home, depressed or ill... the storm description would be so totally different.... I probably should have shown that, shouldn't I?????"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 09, 2022 | 13:29 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Thank you, Miss Glynis! :) Bathed by a passing car... been there. Done that. Not pretty. And didn't swear. :)"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 09, 2022 | 13:31 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Sandy, thank you so much!!!! YOU ARE IN!!!!! And those Smoky Mountains are stunning in their rolling simplicity. How the mist hugs them... and how they hug the earth. It's so different from any other mountain range I've seen. So beautiful!
  • Tonya
    on February 09, 2022 | 15:46 Tonyasaid :
    "A lot of times setting is my spark. Other parts take some digging. I'd love to be entered into the contest."
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 09, 2022 | 18:38 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Tonya, happy to enter you! And yes, I would call creating the setting a spark, too... a hurdle for the characters to move beyond or something that cushions their falls!"
  • Angeline
    on February 09, 2022 | 22:10 Angelinesaid :
    "Thank you for the post, I would love to be entered in the giveaway!
  • Karen Jennings
    on February 09, 2022 | 22:45 Karen Jenningssaid :
    "Beautiful, beautiful description, Ruthy. Sometimes I'll reread description to soak in it for a moment and visualize the painted pictures. I love your writing and you. Great post! "
  • Lucy Reynolds
    on February 09, 2022 | 22:59 Lucy Reynolds said :
    "You have such a gift for words. It’s so fascinating to read your posts."
  • Edwina
    on February 09, 2022 | 23:12 Edwinasaid :
    "I love such descriptive scenes! I think I just got drenched!"
  • Winnie Thomas
    on February 10, 2022 | 01:10 Winnie Thomassaid :
    "Ruthy, I'm feeling extremely wet and cold and miserable right now after reading your excerpt, even though I'm in my nice warm home. LOL You definitely know how to set the scene! Thanks for the intriguing post! I'm filing it away in case I decide to write a book sometime. :-)"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 10, 2022 | 04:12 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "You're welcome and you are entered!!!!!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 10, 2022 | 04:13 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Well, thank you, Miss Karen!!! So nice to have you stop in here. And I do the same thing... I'll kind of let the words soak in because they made me see, think or feel...."
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 10, 2022 | 04:14 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Oh, Lucy... thank you! "
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 10, 2022 | 04:15 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Hahahahaha! Dry clothes await!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on February 10, 2022 | 04:16 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Winnie, I love having you as a beloved reader... Readers are our favorite creatures on the planet!!!! Along with puppies. :)"
  • Jackie Smith
    on February 10, 2022 | 09:57 Jackie Smithsaid :
    "Sorry I'm late....internet is yucky! Ruthy, you're my inspiration, and I love ALL your books! Keep up the great writing! Blessings! Count me in for the CARD. THANKS
  • Winnie
    on February 10, 2022 | 14:29 Winniesaid :
    "I'm glad I'm right up there with puppies! LOL"
  • Rednirus Mart
    on February 12, 2022 | 05:12 Rednirus Martsaid :
    "I just wanted to say that I love every time visiting your wonderful post! Very powerful and have true and fresh information. Thanks for the post and effort and keep Sharing

    Pharma Franchise Own Manufacturing Company
    Pharma Franchise Companies in India"
How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters

Report "How to Create a Strong Setting to Balance Unforgettable Characters"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?