Favorite Settings: A Book-Lover’s Bucket List
Today I have Becca Puglisi, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus, telling us her favorite book settings. For me, settings can be as much a character as the people (or animals if you prefer) just like Miss Havisham's house in Great Expectations. Apparently it's the same for Becca!
When Amie asked me to share my favorite literary settings, I was super excited. I’m a sucker for a good setting. My favorites are the ones that feel like characters themselves, places that elicit a strong feeling in the characters and in me. I wasn’t sure exactly how my list of top settings would play out, but it’s not surprising that they come from four of my favorite books.
1. Hobbiton. My first magical landscape--even if the magic is only the ordinary everyday sort which helps the residents disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. Hobbiton is an excellent example of a setting as characterization. The layout of a hobbit’s hole reveals a lot about the resident. The proliferation of pubs is telling. Even the names of the neighboring boroughs (Bywater, Buckland, Woody End) give you an idea of the kind of people and place you’re dealing with. The lesson I take away from Tolkien and his settings is to choose meaningfully. Weave the story into and through the setting instead of just dropping the character into it.
2. Prince Edward Island. The first time I read Anne of Green Gables, I fell in love with the sheer beauty of PEI. Every lane and field is described so clearly. By today’s standards, the descriptions run a little long, but through them, we see beyond a doubt L.M. Montgomery’s love for her childhood home. I’ve always been a sucker for a place with a view, and because of this book, Prince Edward Island is on my bucket list of places to visit.
3. Hogwarts. Come on, who doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts? It’s got a Forbidden Forest, a sadistic poltergeist, a lake with mermaids and a giant squid, the Shrieking Shack, and a Great Hall that decorates itself and feeds its tenants a never ending supply and endless variety of food. We love it because literally anything could happen there. Naturally, not every story could withstand a Hogwarts. But every story does need that element of surprise and uncertainty, and the setting is a great vehicle through which we can keep the reader guessing.
4. Maycomb. This one surprised me. The setting of To Kill a Mockingbird? Really? But I love it for its GENIUS. The fictional town of Maycomb is symbolic of what’s happening in the story. The heat and need for relief is tangible and quickly becomes unbearable, much like the growing tension in the town and its desperate need for change. Small-town summer is the perfect symbol for innocence; by the end of the story, both the summer and the innocence are gone. It’s just such an incredible example of thoughtful and deliberate use of a setting. Lee inspires me to think more deeply about my settings and make them do double-duty in the story.
It was hard to whittle my list down to the top four, but these are mine. What about you? What are your favorite settings?
Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords, and the PDF can be purchased directly from her blog.