Settings of Secrets

is for Setting.

Stories, settings, sagas, and my 2nd book, Secret Keepers, all start with the Sacred letter S.  I love writing Stories, and pondering different Settings. In Secret Keepers, my main character, Suvi (another S word), heads back to Israel, hoping to draw danger away from her fiancee, James, in Boise, Idaho.

Settings are much easier to write about if you’ve at least been there.  I spent time in Israel in 1989, so these pictures are quite old, but they give you a feel for that historic land, and the Settings I used for Scenes in my book.

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There is a Scene with Suvi and James out on the balcony of the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center. The view from this Spot is Spectacular. It overlooks the old walled city of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock. The floor to ceiling windows with the outside arches frame the view like pieces of art. It gave me goosebumps every time I looked out from here.

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Jerusalem is full of examples of modern and ancient. When I came across these Muslim sheepherders moving their herd across a paved road, it brought a Smile to my face. I love the guy in the back trying to shove them off the road (a car was coming).

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Suvi spends a few months hiding on a kibbutz in the area of the Galilee. This was probably one of my most favorite spots in all of Israel.

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In another Scene, Suvi takes James to the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple (near the Moslem’s Dome of the Rock). This spot in the Old City was always crowded, but my friends and I visited often. It was mesmerizing to watch faithful Jews pray here. The intensity of the Hasidic Jews fascinated me, as did seeing armed Israeli soldiers walking around keeping their eyes out for trouble. Once, we were evacuated and watched from afar as a robot came in and blew up a purse that was unclaimed. The Israeli’s don’t mess around with security. They just blow it up if it’s suspicious (and with good cause).

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This Garden Tomb is about a half block outside the Old City walls. It’s very congested around it, with a loud Arab bus station right next door, but somehow, it still was a very serene, peaceful place where I loved to ponder Christ’s Sacrifice and Triumph over Death. Suvi loves this spot too in my book.

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As a writer, you don’t always have to go to the places you write about…but it’s more fun and easy to write about if you do. With the internet and imagination, you can create a good Setting for a place you haven’t visited, but it’s a little harder (as I’m learning with book 3 as I take my characters to Lexington, Kentucky and Indiana…if you live there or have been there, can I pick your brain?). Thankfully though, I had experience to draw on for Israel…the unique smells, the bustle of sweaty, olive-skinned crowds, the cacophony of cars, and the sounds of haggling.

Secret Keepers by Charissa StastnyWhat about you? Do you only use Settings of places you’ve been to in your writing…or do you mix in places you haven’t been as well? Have you ever created a Setting that is pure fantasy? (I did in 4th grade–the planet McGool; the creatures from there were quite unique; I had more fun creating my setting than a plot–ha ha!).

Now to reward my faithful followers for putting up with daily posts in April, you may go to Smashwords and enter this code to get Secret Keepers FREE Today: JL94H. All I ask is for your honest review on Amazon afterward (and Goodreads and Smashwords if you’d like to go the extra mile).

Char Signature

50 thoughts on “Settings of Secrets

  1. I don’t write (fiction, at least), so I can’t tell you how I frame any settings.

    However, I loved reading and seeing this post. My mother just returned from Israel last week and, although I got to hear all her stories about the above places, I have not seen her pictures yet. It was as if you just illustrated the conversation we had yesterday!

    I would love to go someday.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

    • I would love to compare pictures to see how much it’s changed. I’m sure some of the more historic places haven’t changed much, but the new city of Jerusalem has to have changed a ton since I’ve been there. And I’d love to see what’s been done on the Sea of Galilee. When I was researching kibbutzim for my book (to find the one I went to years ago), there were dozens more that hadn’t been there when I visited. Kind of sad to think of all that empty beachfront commercialized.

  2. Very interesting post, Char. It’s clear you have a writer’s eye for setting. The exciting part about settings for me is to capture all the senses. A breeze, a scent, the light at a particular moment, the sounds, the visual, the unknown. Describing a non-existent setting is challenging, but you can borrow from actual settings to make it seem real.

    • Yes, on my current book, I’m making a whole read through (in the editing process) where I just focus on setting details to make sure there a few in places to ground people into a real scene.

  3. Interesting. Fabulous photos, what a wonderful thing to be able to go somewhere so completely different to your own country. I’ve only been to France and Canada, both pretty similar in culture to the UK!
    Good luck with the rest of the A-Z! I’m doing animal poems and facts and often a drawing as well, I like to make things hard for myself.


  4. I sometimes find myself in a place and in mid-conversation I think ‘now this is a great setting for a story,’ I don’t always know what story it will fit, but I try to take it in from the perspective of writing it … smells, feel, colors, sounds, uniqueness and later I try to write it all down in my journal. Eventually, a story will come along that needs that setting. Hopefully I’ve captured enough in my journal to bring me back there and write about it. Pictures help!

    Thanks for the code to Secret Keepers, just grabbed it! I’m one book away from starting Eyes of Light and now I’ve got this one. You’ve made this A-Z so much fun to follow, Char. What will you do once you get to Z? You’ll probably need a blog vacation 🙂

    • A blog vacation sounds good about now. I love your journal idea. I pulled my journal out from when I was in Israel and was a little miffed that I hadn’t recorded setting details at any length. Sad! I’ll try to do better in the future…but why didn’t my 19 year old self write better back then?

      • Oh if only our 19 year old selves wrote better and more and took it seriously (at least in my case). Still you didn’t do half bad if the setting from when you were 19 became one of the back drops for your book 🙂

        • Yes, I try to tell my college daughters to write down details of what is happening to me, but they give me that annoyed look (which I probably gave my mom as well).

  5. Thanks for sharing, Char. Loved the pictures. So glad you got to go here, even if it was a long time ago.

    • yeah, it was one of those study abroad semesters, so I got to take college courses while I was there–Political science about the MidEast crisis, Hebrew, Jewish culture, and of course Old and New Testament studies.

  6. I’m sure it was fascinating to visit Israel. I doubt it will happen for me, but I enjoy seeing it through the eyes of those who’ve been there.

    I think it’s easier to use a setting in which you’ve lived or visited, but nowadays, with the Internet, it’s not a requirement. One can learn a lot from Google maps and other such sites. 🙂

    • I use Google maps constantly (even for places I have been, because I’m terrible at remembering names of streets and stuff). And I doubt i’ll ever get back to Israel. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was good I did it when I was more naive and brave. Now with all I know about the tension there, I wouldn’t want to go back.

      • “good I did it when I was more naive and brave”—Yes! I think that’s what saved me when I was a young, naive Au Pair girl in Paris all on my lonesome. 🙂

        • Yes, bravery comes easier to the unsuspecting young adult. Did you speak French, or did you get the finger thrown at you all the time when you asked things of Parisians in English?

          • I had four years of high school French, so I knew the basics. Of course, my skills improved fairly quickly once I was immersed in the society. Now, however, they’ve faded, thanks to years of non-use. But I could still find my way around should I ever be stranded there. 🙂

            • That’s good. I don’t know that I will ever visit Paris just for the reason that I don’t speak English and have heard they hate us non-French speakers.

              • That’s just a myth. I have always found French people to be courteous and pleasant, whether I’m speaking English or French. Many love the chance to practice their English. Plus, you’re fun, so they’d love you. 🙂

  7. That’s such a unique setting with amazing photos and memories. I usually stick to places I’ve been for settings because it’s hard to really get a feel for the place with all its smells and accents unless you’ve been there. But then it’s fun to use our imaginations and make up those completely fictional places too.

  8. Settings – love it – great captures! I use to write about made up settings in middle school and now write about the places I have traveled to and experienced. Happy Monday:)

  9. I think I tend towards using settings that I’ve been to. If it’s a short story I’m writing then it might not be necessary to even say where it’s set, but I’ll just imagine a street I know, or a wood I know or whatever, just so that it feels real when I’m writing it, even if I never say specifically where it is. And funny, just as I finished Eyes of Light, you offer Secret Keepers for free! Well if you insist, I accept your gift…thank you 🙂

    • Ha ha! Yes, the timing worked out well for you. I’m glad. And I agree, even if you never say exactly where a story is taking place, if you can imagine it in your mind it makes the writing flow out of you easier.

  10. It’s easier for me to set my stories in areas I’m familiar with. I feel like I can describe them more realistically that way. I might choose a fictional name for a town or city, but it will still be based on real ones in the area.

  11. Settings are really important, Char. I saw an add for a new TV series the other night that is set in the Australian outback but the house looked like an English castle! LOL 😀
    You’re so right about settings being much easier to write about if you’ve been there. If I set my story in a setting that I’ve never visited, Google really gets a workout. I absolutely love the pics you took in Israel, amazing.

    I love the sound of the planet McGool 😉

    • Here, every TV program is set in California. Once they even did an NCIS that was supposed to be set in Las Vegas (but nothing looked familiar or deserty like my hometown; it looked a park in S. California…which really ticked me off). In college, I loved X-files for the only purpose that it was set in some dark, lush green, cloudy Canadian province for several years. When they switched to sets in California, I stopped watching because it looked like every other television show.

      Thanks for liking the name of my 4th grade planet. Maybe some day I’ll scan a picture of the aliens from there (oh wait, I just sent my scanner off to college with my 2nd last week. I guess I’m scannerless and can’t do that. Sorry).

    • Thanks for stopping by, Connie. For being the old film photos, these shots of Israel spruced up nice once I scanned them into my computer and tweaked them a bit.

  12. I enjoyed the photos! I’ve never been to Israel, and honestly, I’d be too scared to go now. Funny, since I just came from Carrie’s post asking if we still scare easily. Only from reality these days…

    Your book sounds exciting!

    • Yes, reality is scary these days. And I told Carrie in an earlier comment that I would be a little intimidated to go back now, knowing what I do. Young 19-20 years olds think they’re invincible (and that’s what I was when I went there).

      • That’s when I toured Western Europe. Well at 17, I was between junior and senior year. I was young and stupid then too–and lucky I wasn’t arrested! Or worse. (Oh, Taken was a chilling movie along those lines.)

        • My girls saw it and thought it was so scary. I’m scared of everything, so I’m not a good judge of scary. Glad you weren’t arrested at 17. I would have missed out on meeting you through your blog…and I have thoroughly loved getting to know you and Spot a little better.

  13. Great photos, thanks for sharing! Sheila Hurst wrote a post recently on a similar topic, using the places you know as settings for your stories. I had told her I can’t think of a single book that takes place in San Diego. It’s a fun place to live and vacation at, but not very excited for a book setting.

    • You know, it’s kind of the same with me and Kauai. I love that setting more than any other, but have never thought of a good story to set there. It’s my vacation spot…I guess it won’t allow me to think of work or writing with it at the same time.

  14. The setting is as critical as the plot to a story. If you cannot draw the reader in and make them believe your story is real, the opportunity to earn a fan will be lost.

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