Indulge me for a few minutes while I engage in a brief exercise. (Yes, it's a writing thing.)
On Thursday, I had lunch with a few other writers and book lovers, organized by the fabulous River Jordan. My critique partner/Wonder Twin was there, along with this very nice writer/professor guy (whom I have known for quite some time now), as well as a few new faces (incredibly interesting Brad, bubbly adorable Tomi, sweet lovely Gloria - all of whom were great company). We gathered at the Capitol Grille, the restaurant in the Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville.
Thank God for the Internet.
I'd never been there, but I'm thinking this is definitely not the kind of place that you can schlep in wearing your faded jeans and WILL TALK BOOKS WITH ANYONE t-shirt. No. (Picture Julia Roberts walking into the Regent Beverly Wilshire for the first time in Pretty Woman.)
So I find and peruse the website. Valet parking. Dress code. Doormen in those uniforms. FIVE. STARS.
I am not - not, I tell you - a 5-star hotel/restaurant kind of gal. I'm way more comfortable in said jeans and t-shirt than I am in a dress. But dress I did (blouse and skirt and sandals, quite appropriate, I discovered), and let the buff guy in the black slacks and golf shirt park my Honda, and let the doorman direct me to the restaurant (to the right and down the stairs, miss), and proceeded to enjoy a lovely lunch (quite reasonably priced, actually) with old friends and new. I even used my knife and fork (although admittedly did eat my dainty chips of the fish-and-chips special with my fingers, as everyone else who had it did too).
I felt so uptown, tipping the valet when he brought my car back. But I tell you, I couldn't get those nylons off fast enough when I got home.
Saturday, hubby had a rehearsal with the Nashville Praise Symphony (of which he has been a member since its inception in 2002 - pardon my pride moment there). Our youngest and her friend went with me to help serve lunch to the orchestra members. We set up tables, set out the food, poured drinks and cleaned up afterward. A couple of the other wives rounded out the serving team. As I stood back and observed the crowd (a sometimes unnerving habit of mine), I couldn't help but marvel at the stark contrast between the two days.
It's quite a study, really.
Thursday: Suits and skirts, valets and doormen, tips and tablecloths, and one stunning art deco men's room (yeah, you're supposed to see it, even if you're not men - JT took me in there). A relatively quiet, conservative atmosphere. Me, being served, even pampered a little.
Saturday: Jeans, t-shirts, shorts, golf shirts. Big Baptist church choir room. Lots of activity and fellowship. Me, serving other people.
As a writer, I can look at the two scenes as described above and picture them in my head (the fact that I was present for both aside). Can you? And can you see the differences beyond what I've listed here? You can picture it, can't you?
These are the kinds of things we think about when we're setting a scene. With a few notable but rare exceptions, not every story takes place in exactly the same setting, scene to scene. Right? Wouldn't you, as a reader, be bored to tears without a little variety (as I said, notable exceptions notwithstanding) within the story? The most exciting aspect of this is that every reader has his/her own imagination that fills in whatever gaps we writers might leave (purposely, because less is more), and may see each scene just a tiny bit differently than someone else sees it.
Character and plot are important, obviously, but you have to have setting to complete the triangle. How exciting would James Bond be if you couldn't see where he was? Or Lucas Davenport? Jack Reacher? And Taylor Jackson? I'm admittedly a bit biased when it comes to Taylor, but JT does an outstanding job of describing Nashville in her series. She insists the city is a character in and of itself, and it is, especially the way she draws it.
It would be interesting to see a list of books that you (gentle readers) consider great that take place all in one setting. I'm sure there are some out there, and I'll beg your forgiveness that I don't know any off the top of my head. But feel free to contribute your picks in the comments section. Or, if you want to expound on any that do incorporate setting well, please don't hesitate to list those too. We'd all like to see what you see.