Setting from Memory

Last weekend, the amazing JC Hays ( spoke at our MoRWA chapter meeting about world building.  JC writes sci fi romance and knows how to build a world from scratch.  But his talk focused on what to do when you are world building outside the paranormal and fantasy genres.  He got me thinking about my own setting process.  How do I choose where I set my stories?  Or do the characters choose for me? What about the fictional small town world of Shawnee, Idaho, where my Bull Rider’s series is set?  Today, we’re going deep into setting –

The Bull Rider’s Brother is set in a small town carved out of a river valley on the one north to south highway in Idaho.  A town like Shawnee exists, but the places I chose to highlight were a mix of different towns I’d visited as well as fictional spots.  Places that probably exist more in my mind, than on a specific spot on Google maps.

As a young girl, my family used to go camping on a tiny lake.  The pine trees surrounded the little lake, fed each year by the run off from the snow melting off the mountains.  The fish and game department stocked the lake annually, and, my mom and step-dad loved the fishing.  The lake was just long enough that you could swim the entire length without stopping. So once I’d swim the lake, I’d climb up on a large rock to suntan, and day dream.

This day dream process is how I describe my settings.  In The Bull Rider’s Brother, what does James see when he walks into Lizzie’s cabin for the first time in six years?  A robot movie plays on the television in the corner of the living room, toy cars line what used to be a bar for their cabin guests. What doesn’t he see? The glass refrigerator where Lizzie’s dad held the cold beers and sodas is empty and dark.  The liquor bottles that used to line the mirrored back of the bar, missing.   Hudson’s Hot Springs wasn’t open for business, during the peak of tourist season.  Now, James knows something’s wrong.

JC mentioned the use of monuments in his world building.  Like the clock tower in Back to the Future.  That clock tower in the middle of town ties the three movies together, past, present, and future.  In The Bull Rider’s Brother, the rodeo parade stands are that monument, even though they aren’t up all year long. The book opens and closes with the major characters on the stands.  The big reveal happens there as well as the inciting incident in the past – these hard, metal risers contain a lot of memories for my characters. 

When I wrote The Bull Rider’s Manager, the setting monument is the waiting area at an airport gate.  Different airports, different views, but as anyone who travels can tell you, these areas all feel the same.  Big changes happen to Barb and Hunter in these settings.  And with big changes, memories start to flow.

So Ladies in Red readers, what’s your favorite setting in either a book you read or one you wrote?  And why?

Lynn Cahoon



  1. Lynn,
    Your settings sound so appropriate and right on. I would have enjoyed listening to your speaker.
    I placed Black Creek Burning in upstate New York because of the terrain and the presence of four seasons. The main character is a landscape designer and her development as a character metaphorically parallels the change in seasons throughout the story. She grows and learns to trust/the plantlife around her comes to life. Hopefully, it’s subliminal enough that readers don’t even notice. 🙂 Best of luck with your lovely new release!
    -R.T. Wolfe
    Black Creek Burning (Crimson Romance, September 2012)

  2. I tend to set my books in the NY area since I’ve lived here for 12 years and am so familiar with it. I love that it’s very lush, green and vibrant here. But I also love to set my books in places I’ve been to in the past, like the Rocky Mountains. It’s fun to draw back on memories about how a place looked or made me feel. One of the many reasons I love writing!

    • Heather – I love the Rockies. And it is about the feeling a place gives you.

  3. Lynn – Great settings (and I always love an airport setting!). Being a country girl at heart, I find myself glomming onto books with rural or semi-rural settings.

    • BerinnRae – I didn’t notice when I wrote the 2nd book how many of my scenes happened in the airport. When I went back and looked at theme – that’s when I saw the repeating setting.

  4. In the summer, I like to read books set in summer. And I’ll always read a Christmas-setting around the holidays. Kind of like decorating, I guess. In my own work, I use familiar settings–a college, a bookstore, a newspaper. But in my new one, I use a place I’ve visited only in imagination–and via the internet, Belize!

    • Kate – I love the idea of reading around the holidays! For many years, I read The Stand every summer. Might just have to find my old copy and curl up before summer disappears.

  5. Lynn, your setting sounds lovely. Even though I’ve never visited the Scottish Highlands or Lowlands, I love the idea of setting stories in what I picture to be a lush part of the world steeped in history. I like a country setting.

    • Sharon, I’ve always wondered about the draw to Scotland. I’ll have to start reading some of the Highland Warrior books.

  6. I think one of my favorite settings is a scene I wrote in New York’s Central Park. I actually did some research for that one, and while I usually don’t want my readers to learn anything of significance from my book (just escape, and feel), I did put some interesting details in that one. And, oh! The one set in Ireland. That one came from a trip I took there, and a little research as well. Thanks for writing this and making us think a little about our settings!

    • MJ – I love Central Park. My BFF and I did a walk through the park during Nat’ls two years ago and I snapped tons of pictures. One is of this knot hole in a tree. Looks like a portal to another place to me…. LOL

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