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Linda Adams
08-05-2006, 03:05 PM
Inspired by Thriller: Underground ... The setting and sense of place are often extremely important in a thriller; in many cases, it's like an extra character in the story. What are some examples of books where the setting really works and where it really doesn't--and why"?

Where it really works: Vince Flynn's books. His setting sounds so much like DC that I actually went to his Web site to see where he lived (I think it's someplace like Michigan). He is very effectively able to portray the culture of Washington, DC without a lot of meaningless details--and he takes a lot of time to build on the culture of the area.

James Rollins' Amazonia: The setting is a big part of the danger in the story. It was one of those books where you didn't need to feel like you had to have been there; he made it feel like you were there.

Where it really didn't work: Catherine Coulter's book Blow Out, which had a murder in the Supreme Court. Other than mentioning it was in DC and in the Supreme Court, I kind of felt it could have been set anyway--just change the name of the city and the court. She didn't really make me feel like I was in DC, or anywhere really.

Quiller
08-05-2006, 03:51 PM
Thrillers are usually "Quest" books, i.e. stories of a single individual (usually male) sent off to "a distant land" to retrieve The Holy Grail and save civilization as we (the Good Guys, us) know it.

Vince Flynn is from the Twin Cities, I think Mpls. I get an alumni newsletter from a college in St. Paul (which I attended one year) that did a recent drumup of one of its famous graduates, Vince Flynn.

DeborahM
08-05-2006, 04:25 PM
Stephen King is awsome in his descriptive settings, adding the sensory touch makes you feel as if your crossing the country in The Stand (my favorite) or Cudjo foaming at the mouth inches from my face only separated by a pane of glass in the sweltering car. Scared the tar out of me!

Remember James Clavell's Shogun? You felt like your were on the ship also. That was the best one he wrote, too.

James Michener's books, once you got past his geography lesson which was researched and written by others, his setting were fantastic and he could make his characters come alive. I hated it when I finished Hawaii and there wasn't any more to read. I felt I was going through withdrawls.

I realize I got away from the thriller genre with the last two, but my head was thinking about descriptive settings. Two lashes for me because I'm going to keep them in the post!

Soccer Mom
08-05-2006, 05:45 PM
I really love what Preston/Child do with their thriller settings. They always capture a setting for me. In Riptide, we have the pirate's cave, in Thunderhead we have the southwest. In Still Life with Crows, it's the midwest. I always feel like their books take me somewhere.

Jamesaritchie
08-05-2006, 06:45 PM
I've always believe setting is crucial to a story, and setting can almost sell a story by itself. It can certainly make an editor choose your story over another of equal merit in every way other than good use of setting.

Ordinary_Guy
08-05-2006, 10:36 PM
...The setting and sense of place are often extremely important in a thriller; in many cases, it's like an extra character in the story. What are some examples of books where the setting really works and where it really doesn't--and why"?
"Like a character" is a great way of putting it – and a great way for a writer to stay conscious of it. From that angle, it becomes easier to measure how many details should be dribbled out and how much your "speaking" characters should interact with it.

Where it really works: ...His setting sounds so much like DC that I actually went to his Web site to see where he lived (I think it's someplace like Michigan). He is very effectively able to portray the culture of Washington, DC without a lot of meaningless details--and he takes a lot of time to build on the culture of the area.
Just enough to add flavor and reality... without becoming a distraction.

Where it really didn't work: ...Other than mentioning it was in DC and in the Supreme Court, I kind of felt it could have been set anyway--just change the name of the city and the court. She didn't really make me feel like I was in DC, or anywhere really.
So you felt you were in a city, but had no sense of the distinction? That's tough to do, especially considering the unique DC feel. It tells me that details were neglected. With just a few sentences of color observation sprinkled in, one complaint that every car blocking traffic seems to have damned diplomatic plates...she could've taken you from Anytown to That town. Hopefully, DC (and the Supremes) weren't key in the plot.

I can certainly understand letting the setting stay in the background, especially if a writer is trying to give the reader a "This Could Happen To You" chill. The story can still give the reader a ride, but all the bumps and bruises happen in their own backyard. OTOH, if the writer wants to give the reader a feeling of movement – doubly important if the plot is location specific (like DC) – they've really got quantify/qualify the setting like they would a character and have their protags interact with it...