More Than a Cardboard Backdrop

Mountains ridges tinged with a bluish haze. Wisps of white clouds flitting through valleys and around peaks. Breathtaking views from overlooks on a road devoid of buildings. Beautiful, historic architecture in a city older than the USA. These are just a few of the memories I have from my time in South Carolina.

A fellow author once jokingly claimed she’d written several stories because she loved the places she used as settings. I responded by saying that’s why River of Life exists. A slight exaggeration—I developed the story concept long before I moved to the South Carolina Upstate. However, I did do my best to capture the region I grew to love with my keyboard as well as with my camera.

But the Upstate wasn’t a cardboard backdrop someone might build for a play.  While writing the story gave me an opportunity to once again indulge in the sights I so love, I made the choice because I could better utilize the landscape. The mountains not only serve as a picturesque background in several scenes, the distance to those mountains represents the character’s journey from healing and her distance from God. Spoiler alert—the gap closes throughout the story. That’s just one example.

I chose the backdrops for my other novels and novellas for similar reasons. In the second part of the story, a portion of the Blue Ridge escarpment once known as the Dark Corner comes into play. Not only did I show that deadly beauty, I wove elements of the history of that isolatated region into a character’s past. In addition, the name “Dark Corner” symbolizes the character’s spiritual condition. And of course, North of Broad and Fall in Eden couldn’t be set anywhere but Charleston and Murrells Inlet, respectively, without a major change to the plots.

Authors often place their novels in the town in which they live or grew up, but it sometimes isn’t enough to just have the story take place in a certain area. The region, culture, foods, etc. should have some impact on the story to the point that if an author changes the setting, it would change the story to some extent as well. I’m not a happy reader when an author promotes a book in part by advertising the story is set in such-and-such a location. Then, when I read the story, I find the landscape has been completely ignored. In such cases, the setting truly does become a cardboard backdrop—nondescript and gray. I can’t speak for others, but when I read a story, I want it to take me places.

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