Chances are, the writer has employed certain techniques to utilise setting to convey mood, emotion and layers of meaning beyond the obvious or explicit storyline.
Setting linked to story
A great examples of a book with an important setting is The Devil Wears Prada (of course, it’s a movie too), set in the exciting but relentless and exhausting work world of New York City. The lead character, Andie, struggles to make it in fashion and publishing industries with a psychopath boss. The story is tied to the momentum of New York. Andie is smart, savvy and determined, just like the city around her. She learns about style and substance, and finds her own direction to make it as a writer. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere...
A wonderful movie example is Amelie, famously set in and around the quirky Montmartre area in Paris, long home to artists and dancers. Amelie of course, is a wide-eyed character who works in a café and interacts with those around her in a child-like way, spreading joy. The village within a city feel lends the movie an intimacy that you might not otherwise find in a film set in modern Paris. It wouldn’t have been quite the same if it was set along the sophisticated Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Themes and mood in Girl on a Plane
When writing my new release novel, Girl on a Plane, something happened that I hadn’t expected. The settings became crucial. Not simply physical description, because actually, I was a little light on detail, but the sense of place and meaning of the location. Also, the weather was an important element, adding layers to the characters’ moods.
I realised I was writing about travel, journeys and destinations. Not simply the physical location we might find ourselves inhabiting, but the places our hearts take us and the decisions we make in life.
Some bigger issues were presenting themselves, under the lighthearted and romantic storyline. After re-reading the entire story during editing, the main story idea or theme stood out. It was finding direction in life, or true north.
I found myself pondering a few key questions related to the story:
- Where do we see ourselves going? What happens if that’s not where we end up?
- Where is home when you’re always travelling?
- When you leave one home, how do you find another?
- If you meet someone special in your travels, can you really form a connection?
My heroine in Girl on a Plane, Sinead, is an Irish flight attendant. When we first meet her at the start of the novel, she’s perky and bright, serving the first class passengers with a wink and a smile, even performing a cheeky dance. But we learn that underneath, she’s also getting worn-out and struggling with her non-stop travel job and lack of human connections. Sinead’s mood changes through the book, and her response to settings reflect this. She’s looking for a type of escape.
Gabriel, my sexy but gruff Aussie CEO, is a hero with a difference. He’s working himself sick, literally. And his fears about his health (no spoilers!) have him steering clear of meaningful relationships with women. He had a home and family, but now finds himself traversing the globe without a plan. And plans are very important to him.
Locations with special meaning
In Girl on a Plane, I’ve subconsciously used certain locations to represent meaning and the characters’ thoughts or state of mind. To Sinead, Paris, the City of Love, holds a special place in her heart and mind – it’s about love, romance, glamour, sophistication and indulgence.
Here’s an example from Girl on a Plane, a scene set in Paris, where Sinead has arrived and receives a message from her sister, Bridie:
The tune playing through Sinead’s earbuds was perfect. Something about hearts yearning and Paris burning. Burning with passion all night long.
She nodded her head along with the song’s upbeat tempo. Soaking up the atmosphere, sitting at an outdoor table at one of her favourite cafés on the fashionable Boulevard St Germain, she watched the sophisticated crowd. Beautiful couples holding hands, basking in the afterglow of whatever had happened the night before. Just like she was. Students reading, old people walking their dogs.
Waiting for Yuki, she sipped a perfect café au lait. She sighed as the bittersweet flavour filled her mouth. Then she checked her phone for messages. Again. Her heart pounded as a new text message popped up before her eyes. Not from Gabriel. Her stomach dropped with disappointment.
It was from Bridie. Guilt clogged her throat for ignoring her sister so thoroughly since she arrived yesterday.
Bridie: RU gone? Where to?
Sinead: Yes, left for work at arse crack of dawn. In Paris.
Bridie: OMG! Lucky bitch. Can I have ur bed? I won’t defile it with boys. Promise.
Sinead: Sure, see you tomorrow morning. XXX
The weather as barometer
For those who don’t know, a barometer is an instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure, in forecasting the weather and determining altitude.
When editing Girl on a Plane, I noticed I’d used descriptions of the weather as an indicator of the characters’ mood and feelings. From storm clouds gathering to sunshine on the horizon, the way the characters’ experience their environment can add an additional layer of meaning.
Without giving away any major spoilers, I can reveal that there’s a storm early in the book, and ominous thunder and rain signal the major upheavals in each of the main characters’ lives. And there’s a happy ever after ending, set on a tropical island. Because don’t we all want a holiday fling or some romance in the sunshine?
Girl on a Plane taught me a lot about writing, as I was doing it. But it also had me reflecting on my own travels through the world and through life. Who knows where I’ll end up in a few years? But I hope to have many adventures along the way which will also add to my journey as a writer.
Girl on a Plane
A sexy, sassy, summer read. CLIMB ON BOARD . . .
When feisty Irish flight attendant Sinead Kennealy locks eyes with sexy Australian CEO Gabriel Anderson in First Class, sparks fly. But as they jet across the globe from Melbourne to London, it’s clear that they’re in for a turbulent journey . . .
Stressed-out Gabriel doesn’t do relationships. And Sinead isn’t about to be fooled by another bad boy after escaping her stalker ex. Then a storm hits, causing the plane to land unexpectedly, and Sinead and Gabriel are thrown together in Singapore.
The pressure rises as Sinead’s unhappy past threatens to catch up with her. But might Gabriel be the one to heal her heartbreak? If he could open up about his troubling secrets, maybe a relationship could actually get off the ground. Fasten your seatbelts – this WON’T be a smooth ride . . .
Girl on a Plane e-book releases globally on 18 July 2016. Read more at cassandraolearyauthor.com