Place as a Character in a Romance Novel

Vicarious travel.  Don’t you love it?  Especially, if travel involves a luscious romance.

Sheik in romance novelsPlace has been an important character in romance novels from the very beginning.  It was not only the handsome sheik leading warriors to abduct the heroine (and, of course, eventually fall in love with her), there were rich tycoons, pirates, ranchers with spreads the size of Texas…you get the idea.

A good writer can bring you to a sense of place in a few words. She or he can set the mood and give you a sense of anticipation about what’s to come. And for people who consider their lives ordinary and humdrum, being whisked off on a private jet to Paris sounds heavenly.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has one of the most famous opening lines in literature, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Right then, you know that Manderley was going to be an important influence in the novel. And who can forget the hulking home that became a nightmarish prison to the young bride?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening words of A Tale of Two Cities immediately lets us know that the setting for the novel will have an enormous impact on the characters. Indeed, the French Revolution has served as the backdrop for many sweeping romances. One of my favorite movies is The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour (1982). I highly recommend it for a winter afternoon’s escape.

While I don’t begin my novel, California Sunset, with description, the Central Coast has shaped the heroine and provides one of the motivations for her actions. In the following scene, Annie, the heroine, is bringing her sleeping teenage son to soccer practice.  She knows she has a choice–stay in California and lose her job or move to New Jersey. In this passage, California tugs at her heart:

She took the southern route over the Coastal Mountains, climbing the switchbacks to Hecker Pass on Highway 152. The road always soothed her, even though its twists and turns required concentration. Glimpses of Watsonville’s morning-lit strawberry fields framed by the curve of the Monterey Bay lifted her heart as she ascended. The early spring air was clear, washed clean by the rain of the previous two days.

The landscape abruptly changed from sunlit ocean edge to secretive forest when she crested the summit. She always felt as if she was entering one of the fairy forests from Lord of the Rings. Maybe this was where the mountain knights lived. Maybe that wasn’t a patch of dogwood in the trees, but a knight’s white stallion. Song of India played on the car radio and she could almost believe in dreams coming true.

Almost, but not quite.

What book have you read where the place holds a strong spot in your memory? Let us know about it!

Blog post by Casey Dawes,

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc



  1. I’ve learned a lot about places by writing about them, too – Reunion Island, the wilds of Ontario, northern Maine, the Indian reservations – and I find that I have a special interest in places I’ve written about – vicariously “being there.” I’m in total agreement with you. (Of course, we all write fantasy and science fiction as well, and we HAVEN’T been THERE – yet.)

  2. It’s amazing what you learn as you write a book! *smile* This post brought it all home. Your Q: Books I have read by Maggie Osborne invariably make me feel as if I’ve had a wonderful, behind-the-scenes history lesson. I Do, I Do, I Do, and Silver Lining that I will always remember as being particularly place-oriented. I highly recommend them! Thanks for sharing today!

  3. I so love getting lost in the setting. I think my first feeling reading was in Stephen King’s books. I want to visit his Maine.

    • When I finish my California series, I’ll need to do one on Montana. Place and weather are definitely characters here. Almost as ghostly this morning with the fog as Maine, Lynn.

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