Dramatic Settings

on July 8, 2013 in Misc

I had no idea some scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed in Northern Ireland.  So when I saw a photo much like this one in the New York Times, I thought it was a special effects fake picture.

But this place is real. Isn’t it gorgeous?

According to the Times, the Dark Hedges is an isolated country lane flanked by beech trees planted in the 1700’s.  It’s rumored to be haunted by a ghost called the Grey Lady (doesn’t it look like it would be?), and until recently it was an isolated, lonely place no one ever went to.  Now Game fans are flocking to it.

It’s easy for me to see how a setting like this can inspire a writer to weave a dramatic scene in a story.  It also reminds me of the reason I sent Layla in The Compass Master, in flashback scenes of her high school years, to Kylemore Abbey in northwestern Ireland.  Sure, my sister went there for a year, so I had some great inside info on the nun-run place.  But there was also the fact that the Abbey is a centuries-old castle far out in the country and reigns like a queen over a lake.  Take a look…

Can’t you just imagine the nuns in a place like this plotting to battle a conspiracy of foes?

One of the most dramatic-looking places I’ve ever been in was Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  I went years ago (when I still had money to travel) and just after the country was opening up to a few travelers after the terror of the Khmer Rouge.  Seeing those still largely deserted ancient temple ruins, which had been overgrown in places by the jungle, was an extraordinary experience, and I wouldn’t mind setting a story there but I can’t ’cause Lara Croft Tomb Raider has already used it.  For me, what added to the drama was how the grounds were still being cleared of landmines, so not only did I have to stick to the designated paths, small warning signs with a skull and crossbones marked out the dangerous spots.  But just like in the movie, little local urchins were running in and around the temple as if it were their playground.  They weren’t afraid of the landmines or of the small poisonous snakes that infested the jungle floor.

One place I’ve been to quite a few times (I’ve got family there) is the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  I’ve never thought of setting a novel in the area, but Stephenie Meyer did so with great success in her Twilight Series.  It seems she chose Forks as a setting because it gets the highest rate of rainfall in the country, and I can testify that if you ever want to feel so soggy you’ve got moss growing between your toes, that’s the place to go to.   So yes, a fictional version of Forks can seem like just the right place for vampires and werewolves.  But the reality isn’t quite so inspiring.  As the writer Timothy Egan wrote about that plain, dumpy town, “Forks is to the Olympic Peninsula what a butt rash is to Venus.”

I’d love to hear if parts of your novels or short stories have been inspired by places you’ve been to.  Beautiful or ugly, inviting or frightening–they really can make a difference in a story, can’t they?



18 Responses to “Dramatic Settings”

  1. Poisonous snakes? Pass…
    I lived in Arizona for a while, and the desert is an amazing place. She is a living creature. That’s probably why the setting for my second and third books was on a desert planet.
    I’ve been to some incredible places in England and Scotland that would make good settings in a story.

  2. I wouldn’t mind the moss between the toes if I could see shirtless werewolves running around everywhere with six-pack abs, etc. I suppose that would depend too that they were friendly.

  3. Helena says:

    Alex – But there are poisonous snakes in the desert! I’m really looking forward to reading your books as soon as I can dig out from my proofing/publishing burdens.

  4. Helena says:

    Michael – I’ve heard so many people say that Bella in the Twilight series makes the wrong choice by going with the vamp guy.

  5. I love all these images and would love to visit the real places one day. If I win the lottery. Most of my fiction is set in real places or fictionalized real places that I’ve lived in or visited. Every place on earth has its own distinct feel and quirks. Some even have a unique aroma. Those things are hard to capture by research alone unless you hit upon just the right person to talk to.

  6. Helena, any boyfriend you have to DIE to be with is no boyfriend to have! Of course, Bella would have had to watch out making Jacob angry! Ireland is so beautiful as is New Zealand, which is the country I really want to visit.

  7. Helena says:

    Carol – I love how your Solomon’s Compass is obviously set along a coastline you know well and how you capture the setting’s “feel and quirks.” Being a landlocked landlubber myself, I’m fascinated by people who understand the sea and large bodies of water (which kinda freak me out, to be honest).

  8. Helena says:

    Roland – One of these days I’ll watch the Twilight movies to see what all the fuss is about. I tried reading a few pages of the first book but just couldn’t get into the high school girl viewpoint. I’m too old, maybe. I’d love to visit New Zealand too – it’s spectacularly beautiful!

  9. Nas says:

    Lovely photos. I would love to visit this place.

  10. Helena says:

    Nas – The Dark Hedges are really beautiful, aren’t they?

  11. @Helena: I tried to read Twilight. I really did. I remember the night. I walked across the street to the Barnes and Noble and asked someone that worked there about a really popular vampire book. I said I wanted to read it. I took it home all excited to delve into the pages and read about the descriptions of super hot guys.

    I’ve never been more disappointed in the writing in my life. It was so boring.

    That being said, I think it would be an obvious choice between vamps and wolves. One gives off heat, the other doesn’t. One’s a corpse, the other isn’t. One likes to cuddle (dogs like to cuddle) the other sleeps in a coffin and drinks blood.

    I’ve never understood the attraction that women have to vampires. The only thing I can connect the dots with relates back to science: semen is a by-product of blood. So maybe biologically speaking, women are attracted to vamps because 1) they are men 2) they are dead so can’t impregnate them 3) they are always handsome and 4) they are frozen in time.

  12. Helena says:

    Michael – I’d go with the werewolf too and for the reasons you listed, but then I love dogs and how they’re loving and loyal and fun.

    As a woman I can officially state that I’ve never had a thing for vampires. I think the vampire-slash-erotica connection began with the first book Dracula, which appeared in the Victorian period when women were so sexually repressed. Suddenly here was a novel with a mysterious aristocratic and wealthy man (not some lower class slob, of course) who was secretly a beast that could get into a woman’s bedroom when she was sleeping and lie against her and suck her blood and she was helpless to resist. The operative word here being suck. That was enough to make some lady readers go batshit crazy. (pun)

    That said, I have to say I enjoy Charlaine Harris’ True Blood series. I haven’t seen the HBO shows, which from the sound of it overemphasize the sex and violence, whereas in the books the narrator Sookie talks more about her work, her house, and struggling to make ends meet. These are among the few books I’ve read that, ironically, capture the struggling day to day life of blue collar workers living in dumpy towns. But if the books didn’t have a lot of other supernaturals showing up, including werewolves and fairies, I’d have lost interest long ago.

    Since I haven’t read the Twilight books and just can’t get interested in the flicks, I can’t comment on them, but there seems to be a lot of buzz about how Twilight hones in very well on an adolescent girl’s tendencies toward obsessive, consuming, all-you-need-is-love romantic ideals. It also promotes chastity, which makes parents give those books to their daughters, and that’s not such a bad idea (self-respect and all that, not letting a boyfriend control your body, etc.). On the downside, I do know that Bella marries at 18 and there’s never any mention of going to college and becoming, say, a brain surgeon, and she never has to worry about money or health insurance because her new husband is wealthy and perfect. What a dangerous fantasy.

    The only point of yours I may disagree with is your #3 reason, that vamps are attractive to women because they are frozen in time. The real female fantasy is 1) being the only women this otherwise unattainable man falls hard for, and 2) because he loves her he will change for her and she can actively go about changing him. Look at the core story of Shades of Grey: the unattainable, fabulously wealthy but damaged man who falls for this one imperfect, not beautiful woman and gives her everything she could ever materially need and in the end she changes him. Never underestimate the prevalent but not universal female fantasy of changing other people into what they want.

    Hell, I’ve written a whole essay here, haven’t I? But I love your insightful comments, Michael darling, and it’s so much fun responding.

  13. Hart Johnson says:

    I LOVE that lane. The Game of Thrones filming has chosen some excellent places. I tend to use settings most when they are places I know–Portland or Northern Idaho… It is just easier to really infuse the sense of place if I am super familiar. I don’t want to get facts wrong!

  14. Helena says:

    Hart – You’re smart to go with places you know. A few times I’ve written (maybe in just a couple chapters) about places I haven’t been to, which means I have to do a huge amount of tiresome research. Dumb.

  15. Old Kitty says:

    You’ve been to Angkor Wat?!!??! Oh Helena!! How utterly magical!! What a beautiful place and totally on my bucket list to go and see (felines allowing..! LOL!). And Ireland is totally surreal! Love the nunnery and the Games of Thrones setting!

    Awwww I feel sorry for Forks! LOL!!

    I’ve lived by and on canals so they’re my main setting at the moment! Take care

  16. Helena says:

    Old Kitty – You’ve lived by canals? How wonderful! For people like me from landlocked Colorado, canals and water living are exotic. You and Charlie and Gumtree have fun at your beautiful setting.

  17. Great pictures — wouldn’t mind visiting Ireland someday. Or New Zealand, maybe go on the Hobbit tour. Chicago’s Union Station has shown up in a couple of my stories, as has my condo complex. No comparison, I know.

  18. Helena says:

    Milo – I’ve never been to Chicago’s Union Station, so to me it’s exotic. Definitely a good setting for a story.