Thursday, May 5, 2011

Setting By Contrast

I've written several posts here at Novel Spaces about setting.Setting is often where my idea for a book or story starts, and it's what I usually enjoy most as a reader. But despite the thought I've given to setting, I realized only Monday that contrast is one way to establish setting in a story or book.

the view from my driveway in California
I arrived in Southern California late Monday afternoon after two weeks in New Orleans, where I had lived for many years. The alien nature of California struck me immediately.

I noticed the dry air first. There's a reason cowboys look so weathered: The desert air sucks the moisture from the skin. In New Orleans, moist air soothes the skin and nose and throat.

Next, I noticed how Californians' clothes rarely gave an indication where they were from, a far cry from New Orleans, where at least half of the people I saw were sporting fleur de lis tattoos, boots, hats, jewelry, or bandanas. Sometimes all at once. People who live in New Orleans tend to love it fiercely and display their affiliation whenever possible. Inland Southern California is a place people live to be near their jobs, not a place most people choose to be.

When we reached our house and got out of the car, I noticed how chilly the air had gotten. It had been nearly 90° when we walked out of the airport terminal; only 45 minutes later it was too cold to eat outside. By contrast, the weather was comfortable for our several outdoors suppers in New Orleans, even though the daytime temperatures were about the same as in California.

Bayou Coquille, Jean Lafitte Park, Louisiana
It also struck me then that the quiet was different. In New Orleans, we had stayed in a century-old neighborhood with little car traffic. There was plenty of activity—birds and squirrels and cats going about their business; people working in their yards or walking their dogs or going somewhere on foot—but the noise was hushed by the heavy vegetation, including many old trees with thick canopies. l could not hear the footsteps or words of people passing by only 15 feet away. In contrast, the silence in California was starker. Our house sits on a cul de sac on a hillside. It has the quiet of an inhospitable landscape where there are few people and animals to break the silence, but coyote song echoes off the rocks and carries across the valley, and wind is a constant.

There are many tools one can use to convey a setting. From now on, contrast between two locales will be in my toolbox.

Thanks for visiting. I'll be blogging here again on May 21. Hope you stop by again.

—Shauna Roberts


Charles Gramlich said...

I love setting too. It's just so important. The contrast is a good thing to play with as well. I like that.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, thanks again for stopping by at my booksigning in Metairie.

Liane Spicer said...

Interesting. I don't think I've employed this technique knowingly.