Writing Advice: Choosing The Best Setting For Your Romance
Deciding on a setting is one of the most important choices authors make, and also one of the most difficult ones. Should you choose your home territory, or go for something more exotic? A place you’ve been, or a place you’d like to go? What stereotypes exist about the setting you’re contemplating?
I got interested in these questions when I was deciding on a setting for my upcoming series, The Off Season.
I’ve always found the flat farm country of my home state of Ohio relaxing and appealing, but when I suggested Ohio to my agent, as the setting for my new HQN Books series, she just shook her head. “Ohio’s not romantic,” she said.
Indignant, I turned to several reader friends, but they concurred. What to do?
I thought of where I liked to vacation, and immediately Cape May, New Jersey, came to mind. It’s a quaint, small beach community with sophisticated restaurants and a Victorian feel. Lovely! I prefer to invent towns rather than use real ones (more room for creativity, fewer inconvenient facts), so I proposed a series set on the Jersey Shore. Except…
“The Jersey Shore’s got a bit of a bad reputation,” the editorial director at HQN said. “You can use it, but…” Her hesitation made me second-guess my choice, especially when I polled readers, who concurred with her judgment. Apparently, the reality show Jersey Shore built on already-existing stereotypes, and now it’s the first thing people think of when hearing about the coast of New Jersey. Especially since I write sweeter romance, that wasn’t the right image for my books.
I ended up moving the series to a small town on the Chesapeake Bay, which has some of the homey elements of an Ohio setting and also includes water and beaches.
Not every author takes such a convoluted approach to choosing a setting. Love Inspired Suspense author Dana R. Lynn started close to home, with a fictional town in Northwestern Pennsylvania near where she’s lived for the past 22 years. Dana’s secret to making her setting extra appealing is the fact that her area is “Amish adjacent,” and we all know how appealing Amish books can be. If your area has a much-admired quality, definitely make use of it. Dana has started to branch out, and now she researches places in the US with settled Amish communities, visiting when she can.
Which brings up a key point: if you can drive to your planned setting, in-person research is terrific and fun. I’ve had two wonderful research trips to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay and am planning a third.
Major distance challenges didn’t stop New Englander Belle Calhoune from choosing an Alaskan setting for her Love Inspired series featuring a town with a shortage of women. “The rugged landscape and Alaskan way of life appealed to me since it’s so different from anything I’ve ever known or experienced living in New England. I love writing books set in Alaska, and for me it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” she says. That decision was confirmed when one of her books was made into a movie, Love, Alaska, for UP TV.
Choosing a setting can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding and fun. I’d love to hear what authors and readers have to say about their favorite romance settings.
About Cottage at the Beach:
Escape to the Chesapeake Bay, where beach life is full of love, surprises and second chances…
When an injury forces K-9 officer Trey Harrison onto the sidelines, his only thought is getting back to the police force where he belongs. And he’ll do anything to make that happen—even volunteer in a small waterfront community, just to please his boss. But no one ever said Trey had to enjoy it…
Since the surgery that destroyed her dreams of having children, schoolteacher Erica Rowe has grown even more dedicated to her work with at-risk teens. So she doesn’t need some cop with a chip on his shoulder putting the program’s future in jeopardy. But when Trey finally connects with the students, Erica’s heart melts. And when, in a tender moment, he admits he longs to have children, her heart breaks. She’s convinced he’d be better off with someone who can give him everything, but she can’t seem to shake the hope that maybe love is enough…