Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Question from a Writer on Setting

I was working on my WIP yesterday - a contemporary romance set in West Virginia - when my husband brought up a question that hadn't occurred to me before. Would setting a novel in West Virginia deter agents, and ultimately publishers, from picking it up due to the state's unfortunate reputation? Perhaps I'm incorrect in this assumption, but in thinking about it further, the only novels I've ever encountered that are set in West Virginia have something to do with coal, country folk or small towns. None of these elements, however, are present in my WIP. Both of my main characters are well educated and live in cities - Charleston and Beckley. My husband grew up in West Virginia, both of us attended college in the state and my extended family resides there (though I'm from North Carolina). I chose West Virginia for my WIP primarily because it is beautiful, I'm familiar with it, and a part of me desires to - in some small way - change people's perception of the state and its' residents.

What are your thoughts on the matter? I love my current setting, but if it's going to cause me more difficulty in the already competitive publishing process, I'd certainly consider changing it.

Honestly, I think a lot of writers obsess over the setting of a story. There seems to be a perception that setting a story in one place will sell the book and setting it somewhere else is a certain death. This is far from the truth. In the end, the story is the thing that sells the book, not the setting.

Now, with that said, we do know that there are certain issues and themes that are less likely to sell, and many of these might be associated with a particular region. I think a good example of this is the Civil War and romance. This is just a tough time period to write in. In this case, it is the topic, not the location.

When you pick a story, you really need to find the best setting for the story you want to tell. simply plopping your characters and your story in any place you want will prove to be unsuccessful. Everything - the characters, plots, setting and theme - all have to work together.

Hope that helps.



  1. I appreciate your thoughtful response! You definitely answered my question and put my mind at ease. If you're still looking for contemporary romances after I've finished and polished my WIP, I'll certainly be sending a query your way. Thank you!

  2. scott... i am confused! can you touch on the civil war topic a little more???!! are all things civil war taboo in the industry? and if so, why?

    the obvious civil war idiot

  3. Hey Anon,

    I am personally someone who, as a literature and history freak, love the Civil War. In the romance industry though, this is really a touchy subject. I am not sure if I can pinpoint the exact reasons, but I would have to say that I think it simply stems from not wanting to touch on subjects that people could be offended by.
    Think about the current situation with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and I think you would understand.