I tend to use a lot of small-town settings in my books. Not that I haven’t lived in cities — hello, San Diego, miss you a lot! I just prefer small towns. I’m happy living in one — well, outside one — and most of my characters are, too.

Some readers — based on discussions I’ve read — seem to equate “small town” with “perfect, Norman Rockwell, saccharine-sweet.” None of my small towns have been that way, though my Bethlehem books come closest. (Hey, there were angels! It was supposed to be sweet!)

I’ve never chosen books to read based on the settings (though there was a time when I’d read anything set in New Orleans), so I was surprised to find out that some readers do. I look for a good story in a realistic setting. That’s all I ask. Though I do want a setting. I’ve read a few books that were deliberately placed in an anonymous city or town. I didn’t like it.

What about you? Does setting matter? Do you think small-town equals perfect while big city equals bad? Do you have a preference for small town over big city or vice versa? Or one for real places versus fictional? Or does it matter at all to you?


8 thoughts on “Settings

  1. Doesn’t really matter to me as long as the setting is grounded. 🙂
    I want to know what Main Street looks like.
    I don’t equate big/small with bad/good.
    The places can be actual or fictional. If the setting is in a real city, there had better be some true landmarks.

    • And things had better be where they belong!

      I love reading a book set in a place I know and feeling as if I’m there, but when they get something geographical wrong, it yanks me up by the throat.

  2. Yup, you’ve got to give me a scene to visualize. That was one of the things I loved about Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series: they were set in Boston, and he KNEW Boston. When I visited there, I felt as if I already knew the place from his books.

    (Of course, two of the other things I loved about those books: Spenser and Hawk. Yumm!)

    It occurred to me that when I read a book set in a city, I want something intimate about it — a neighborhood, friends who live nearby, some feeling of community. Sort of a — ahem — small town area inside the big city.

  3. I love the idea of setting as a character. Doesn’t matter one bit to me if the setting is small town, big city, space, the know me, I’m a hodgepodge reader.

    Whatever you’re selling I’ll buy it as long as your set-up is believable. I have no reading prejudices. But I have to admit I love to travel, so if it’s a place I haven’t visited, I’m more engrossed. If the setting is a place I’ve visited, sometimes, I can get the “been there, done that” doldrums as I’m reading.

    • How funny, RD! When I read about a place where I haven’t been, I don’t know if the author knows it any better than I do, so I’m always up for books set in places I know. I think partly I want to see if the author’s done his/her homework. 😉

      I got a kick a few years ago from my first Rachel Butler book, where Tony takes Selena to Dari Diner in Cleveland, OK, for the best BBQ pock sandwiches around. Some guy who lived in the Tulsa area read the book, and he and his wife went to Dari Diner because of it. I thought that was cool.

  4. Marilyn,

    I’m with you. I don’t care whether it’s big city or small town, but I want to feel like I’m THERE.

    Right now, we have a critique partner writing a story that he wants to remain in an anonymous city… it’s very strange to me. Where I’d like to see specific detail to make the setting pop, he’s glossing over it and skipping to the next bit of dialog or action.


  5. I don’t read depending on setting, but must admit to me, small town stories should be homey stories with the big city settings fit suspense or thriller better. Doesn’t mean I tied to this, but a suspense in a small town or a homey story in a city startles me until I settle into the story.

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