Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Creative Freedom of a Fictional Setting – Sabrina Philips

I’ve always loved the extra sense of escapism offered by romances set in exotic, glamorous and beautiful destinations – so it’s no real surprise that I’ve always adored Harlequin Presents. However, I have to confess that when I started trying to write for the line, I was wary of articles about writing that champion setting too much, that even suggested the location of a book could act as a third character. Surely there was a danger that thinking in such a way could result in page after page of elaborate descriptions which would serve no real purpose other than demonstrating that I’d spent an afternoon with a thesaurus? Setting, I thought, should add a dollop of fantasy. Maybe it might occasionally be used to reflect the characters’ moods too, but I knew what mattered most was the relationship between my hero and heroine, not the shape of the trees in Tuscany.

Largely, it’s a viewpoint I still stand by, but when I came to write my second book, my whole way of thinking about setting changed. Why? Because I’d decided to fulfil my dream of writing a sheikh story, and in order to avoid the complexities of choosing an appropriate Middle Eastern country which actually existed on the map, I knew it would work best if it was set in a fictional place.

And once I started thinking about the kind of place I wanted Qwasir - my desert kingdom – to be, it occurred to me that setting is so much more than just scenery. My first story was set largely in Italy, and its Western way of life was so clearly ingrained in my mind that I didn’t even give it a second thought. Now I was inventing a whole new country, I realised that I had free reign not just over geography, but over laws and customs too. Which suddenly made me realise that setting could be far more significant than just acting a backdrop, it could inform plot, I mean, what if Kaliq Al-Zahir A’zam had to marry in order to inherit his kingdom…?

The catalysts for conflict that my fictional setting presented weren’t just external either, because what if I decided that Qwasirian men considered it immoral for women to display their bodies, and what if the woman Kaliq couldn’t get out of his head was top model Tamara Weston?

Of course, real places have plenty of sources of potential internal and external conflict lurking in their own laws and customs too – that Eastern attitude to women has its basis in reality after all – but it took my fictional kingdom to make me see how setting could be so much more than just the colour of the sky and the scent of the breeze. Besides which, creating a fictional kingdom of my own was fabulous fun!

So what about you, do you like reading or writing about fictional settings or do you prefer your romances to take place somewhere you can find on a map?

The Desert King’s Bejewelled Bride is out in the UK in July, and will be released in North America as a Presents Extra this August.

To win a signed copy and a gorgeous Swarvoski crystal necklace, please visit Sabrina’s website where she is currently running a joint contest with fellow Presents author Kate Hewitt.


Estella said...

I like both real and fictional places.

robynl said...

any place, whether real or fictional is fine as long as it goes well with the story. Sometimes a real place can add interest to the story if ones knows where the place is and knows about it.

Sabrina Philips said...

Thanks for your comments! Lovely to hear that both appeal. You're right Robyn, the place needs to go well with the story - it needs to be the right place for that particular hero and heroine's love story to be played out.