Setting the stage
by Jessa Slade on January 19th, 2009

First, a huge thank you to everyone who commented during our inaugural (yes, I have inauguration on the brain) contest here at Silk And Shadows. We had such fun, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again soon. If you’re eager for more contest good times right now, check out our prize at Romance Junkies.

Currently working on: The hero & heroine encounter
the bad guy face-to-face for the first time — dum da DUM!!!
Mood: Hesitant (i.e. not very heroic)

I just finished a fight on the ‘L’ in Chicago. Well, not me personally, of course. My hero and heroine.

Minor spoiler: They survived. No thanks to me.
When it comes to settings, some places just cry out for a scene. Somehow, I wrote SEDUCED BY SHADOWS without a fight on the ‘L’ even though my visual storyboard has a picture that represents the vaguely cathedral-esque scaffolding that supports the elevated train tracks crisscrossing the city. I vowed to rectify that oversight in book two. The ominous rumble of the train, the sharp scent of cold metal, the dangerous imbalance of trying to run across slick rail ties with a horde of hungry demons on your ass desperately needed telling.

My favorite settings to write about are places with the potential to set the mood, to create action, and to reveal character. Yeah, I want the setting to work hard. It’s not the place, particularly, it’s the potential.
The Second City
I chose Chicago for the setting of The Marked Souls series because I thought a story about good and evil for dominion of the human soul should have a setting that could be — in a way — ‘Anyplace USA’ yet capable of containing many contrasts. To me, Chicago is kind of the Jan Brady of big American cities; it’s stuck in the middle. Neither sophisticated East Coast nor bohemian West, its world-class museums, theaters and business sector were built on the bloody stockyards. The city delights in its crooked politics (”Vote early! Vote often!”) and yet it coughed up the key player in one of the most historically significant elections in the nation. Even its weather is a study of contrasts — sweltering summers alternate with vicious winter winds, but they call it the ‘temperate’ zone. The story might really be about the light and darkness at war in everyone, but I hope the setting reflects that until the city itself becomes a character.
These cool old posters encouraged Chicagoans of the 1920s to discover something new. Even though I grew up in the suburbs outside Chicago, I didn’t know the city well, so this is my chance to explore too.

Since the story is set in Chicago, I suppose I need a car chase down Lower Wacker too. You Blues Brothers fans can insert your favorite quote here. Mine? “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” One of these blogging weeks, we’ll have to discuss soundtracks.

Meanwhile, have you ever been someplace that needed only a hero and a heroine — or a villain — to come alive on the movie screen of your mind?

6 comments to “Setting the stage”

  1. 1

    Many, many years ago I was taking the Greyhound through the northern US. I’d been on the bus for about two days and it stopped for breakfast at about 5:30 a.m. on a July morning in Fargo, North Dakota. It was misty and the town was deserted. I walked a bit to stretch my legs and ended up by the train tracks. The street was flanked by false-fronted buildings and drowned in a golden haze. It could have been the 1890s. All it needed was a cowboy or two to make it complete. As tired as I was, if someone had told me I’d slipped through a time portal, I’d probably have believed them!

  2. 2

    I love Chicago. I had a great time shopping on Michigan Avenue and then we went and had a drink at the top of the John Hancock building.

  3. 3

    Chicago. What a great setting, Jessa–especially with your descriptions of the train scaffolding, the rumbles and the smell of metal.

    As far as a setting I thought just needed a hero and heroine…when I visited Urquart Castle in Scotland, it was all-too-easy to envision the castle bustling with activity, perhaps fending off an attack by a rival clan. Lots of great atmosphere there.

  4. 4

    Wow, Jessa, you totally got me just with that little snippet! I think a fight on the L sounds terrifying!

    Annette, I never visited Urquart but I agree that Scottish castles (or Irish or English ones) make for fantastic settings!

  5. 5

    Ooh, Jane, did you have the drink at the 95th? Rumor has it, the view from the women’s bathroom is the finest in the city.

    Ruins of any sort do seem ripe for spontaneously generating stories. Maybe it’s the crush of old souls that well out.

  6. 6


    My critique partner, Cindy Miles, and I went to NYC in October. The day was dreary, and the sun was going down. Traffic was heavy. We went right along one of the elevated railways with all the scaffolding. Everything looked very … BLADE RUNNER! I loved it.

    I really love your visual storyboard too.


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