In 1995 I read an intriguing article in the Vancouver Sun, titled “Lumber firm wails the blues over “singing forest”. Apparently a local tree planter had a spiritual experience in a forest near Tenise Creek; she says, “something akin to the voice of angels rose from the landscape.” I tucked the thought provoking article away and some years later, was sorting through my tattered old file full of various newspaper and magazine articles, the “Story Ideas File”, and read the “singing forest” article again. I began to type and wrote, ““The Elanraigh forest quivered with deep unease. Forest-mind sifted the westerly wind and breathed its warning.” And so a sentient forest came to be both a major character and the setting for my YA fantasy, Elanraigh: The Vow.
Besides, forests are something I’m familiar with, having always lived near forests and ocean—so the additional advantage for this story setting is that it’s a world I know. One less bit of research homework J as my chosen time period is an alternate-earth, medieval society; there was enough research to do there.
Also, the environment of rainforest and stormy coast, both beautiful and ever changing suited the storyline and complimented a story of a girl’s coming of age and blossoming into power.
Just as an aside, in another scene of the book, my protagonist and her party have an encounter and battle to the death with a party of Memteth raiders. The setting for this scene is “Shawl Bay.” In my mind’s eye while writing, I envisioned MacKenzie Beach, known well to me, as it’s located just outside Tofino on Vancouver Island. Ironically enough, it is this same beach that is used as “La Push” in the Twilight movies.
Think how settings affect us in such post-apocalyptic films as the Book of Eli or The Road. We are immersed in dust and despair in the sepia-toned colors of the wasteland, only to brighten in color when Eli and Solara reach Sanctuary and the Curator.
The depression-era circus in Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a wonderful background for her characters’ stories. Just as the glitz and trappings of the big tent’s show disguises the gritty poverty of the circus roustabouts; so do the various costumed performers have their secrets and scars.
A movie like Under the Tuscan Sun is redolent of savory foods, wine and sun-drenched landscapes…a perfect setting for a hurt and lonely woman to heal and learn to open herself to life once again.
The ambience of a book determines much of its mood; setting is a tool the writer can use to evoke emotional response in the reader.