Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Melanie Milburne: Finding the perfect setting for a story.

When I am in the planning stage of writing a novel I think mostly about the characters. The setting is something that comes a bit later. But how important is the setting in the course of the story?

I thought I might share with you how I came to write my Sabbatini Brothers Trilogy. It actually started with a deserted villa in the Italian lakeside village of Stresa. Yes, three books popped into my head just by looking at a villa. Ha ha! I wish!

I was in Italy with my husband and two sons. We were staying in Milan and my husband and son number two were at the Grand Prix test days at Monza, so son number one and I decided to go exploring for the day. We hopped on a train and ended up in Stresa which is a lovely rather quaint village on the shores of the magnificent Lake Maggiore. We had the most amazing time wandering around, having coffee and a croissant at a really old café overlooking the lake.

Then we caught a ferry to each of the three islands: Isola Madre and Isola De Pescatori and my favourite Isola Bella. The gardens were just amazing. I could have stayed there all day listening to the birds and wandering around smelling the roses. There was a grotto and fountains and art works that were priceless.

What a fabulous source of inspiration!

But on the way back to the train we wandered past an old villa that was abandoned. My writer’s cap went on and I started to wonder why it was empty, and who owned it. That’s how I came up with the Sabbatini villa in Bellagio where Giorgio, Luca and Nic lost their baby sister in infancy. So much sadness seemed to be pouring from the villa I walked past. The empty windows were like sad eyes.

Although I didn’t use Stresa as my setting in The Unclaimed Baby, One Last Night or The Wedding Charade, I found myself using it imaginatively. I used Bellagio as the villa setting as that seemed more appropriate for the wealth and standing of the Sabbatini family.

But back to my question: how important is the setting to the story? Personally, I prefer to keep the setting in the background. I figure if readers want a Lonely Planet guide they’ll go and read one. It’s the characters the readers want to learn about, not how many steps lead to the fountain on Isola Bella.

What do you think? Do you love detailed descriptions of exotic locations or do you just like a brushstroke of information to give you a sense of time and place?

I will give away a copy of The Unclaimed Baby to one of the commenters so please share your thoughts!

All the best,

Melanie Milburne

***Jo's Daughter is the winner for a copy of The Unclaimed Baby!  Congratulations, Jo's Daughter!  Please email  with your full name and mailing address.  Thanks to everyone else who left a comment!***


Rachael Johns said...

I'm with you Melanie - I prefer setting to enhance but not takeover. That said I LOVE the idea of your deserted villa (always had a thing about ghost towns/houses) and can't wait to read this series :)

marybelle said...

Brushstrokes are best. Set the tone & the scene. I don't want to feel like I am reading a travel brochure.

Laney4 said...

People sometimes ask me how I can read a book so quickly. There are (at least) three reasons: (1) I am a fast reader; (2) I skim over graphic love scenes; and (3) I skim over long, drawn-out (boring) background descriptions.

That being said, I DO enjoy a little bit of background information, such as where the couple is walking (but not what kind of architecture each of the buildings is along the way); whether the tide is coming in or out (especially if they are swimming); brief clothing descriptions (so I can visualize more accurately); etc.

The descriptions should enhance but not take over. (I thought I was being original in saying that, and then I realized that Rachael Johns said the same thing. Great minds think alike, LOL!)

Leni said...

I think settings can play an important part of the story and act as a character. But if it's a fast moving story and deals more with the characters then it's not as important to go into as many details.

Kaelee said...

I like reading about different places but just a hint in a story is all I need. I will look up new locations on Google but I will also look up anything else that interests me. Right now I'm going to look up the two Italian places that you have mentioned in this blog.

Estella said...

I prefer the setting to be in the background.

kissinoak at frontier dot com

Melanie Milburne said...

Thanks ladies for confirming my opinion! I often skim over long descriptions of food, clothes and settings. The story is about the hero and the heroine, not what they are eating or wearing or where they are staying. Having said that, I love to put in a luxurious hotel or villa and really go to town in decorating it but it still has to stay in the background. Too much description is like concentrating on the bed linen instead of the couple who are making love on top of it!

Margie said...

I'm with the brush strokes approach. I like flavor, but I don't want too much salt to spoil the dinner, you know?

Melanie Milburne said...

I like that expression, Margie!

TashNz said...

Hi Melanie, i too prefer the setting to be there but quietly in the background so you can get a sense but not with too many pages cutting in to the story. Love your books :)

Jo's Daughter said...

I do like it when the scene is set & I get a clear picture of their surroundings.
But if I want the full tour I'll pick up a travel guide, not a romance novel.

Melanie Milburne said...

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few hours. In the past when travel was something only the very rich did, I think novels, including romance novels, were a way for people to travel vicariously. But now with the internet (Google for instance) and cheaper airfares (mostly) readers don't need detailed descriptions. What do you think? I think back to romance novels I read when I was younger. They were full of exotic details of just about everything. Maybe readers are more demanding these days.I know I am.

desere_steenberg said...

Hi Melanie,

I love detailed descriptions of exotic locations as it lets me feel like I am actually being transported to the location and helps me to understand what type of "feeling mode" the characters are experiencing ,but that said I don't want too detailed as like you said that just lets you feel like your receiving a glorified tour lol !

But also not just a brushstroke as just that little bit extra information about the location can be very intriguing and can make the story so much more captivating to me.

So basically a nice balance between detailed and brushstroke is what I am ultimately looking for.

I love the idea of how you came up with the Sabbatini villa really excellent thinking!

All the best,

louise said...

i like just enough description to gve me a glimpse of the setting. do I really care what type roses are climbing the trellis behind Brad as he leans in closer to Angelique ??
I think not.