Have you ever wondered how an author decides where the action in their book is going to take place? Today I’m joined by author Steve Catto as he tells us about the importance of setting in his recent novel Snowflakes.
I have been asked why choosing the setting for my book was important. For the answer to be meaningful it’s necessary to understand some key aspects of the characters and the plot.
‘Snowflakes’ is a story that can be described in several ways, because it exists on several levels. There are four characters, each of whom has a unique role to play. The two older girls find themselves taken away from their homes by mysterious events, to a strange place where they meet with a handsome hunter called Sam, and are forced to live an isolated existence. At some point they are joined by another girl who never speaks, and whose thoughts and plans are therefore unclear. Their joint struggle for existence, which consists of surviving from day to day both physically and mentally, is tolerable and sometimes enjoyable, until one of the girls discovers what Sam really does at night when he goes out hunting and then they begin to realise that their world may not be what they think it is.
The story involves aspects of day to day life mixed with mysterious happenings, coupled with elements of escapism and adventure. From the very start it was apparent that the setting was going to be as important as the plot and the characters, or perhaps even more so.
The setting is a small abandoned house in the countryside. Although little of importance actually happens at the house it is a central place in the surroundings. This is really a home-from-home for them because none of them belong there, so it made sense for the house to be a ‘lost soul’ as well, and their co-existence can be viewed as symbiotic. It gives them shelter and warmth and a sense of community, and they have rescued it from isolation and further decay. It’s a case of bringing life to an inanimate object and treating it as another character. Writing their names on the wall soon after they settle there serves both to solidify their group and to subconsciously include the little house in it as well, something which can be used for emotional effect much later when we reach the end.
The surroundings needed to be versatile, so a countryside setting was ideal. It represents ‘a world’ for their new life which provides food and water, so a forest and river were obvious additions. The characters are, at least symbolically, trapped there, so the nearby river forms one edge of their world, and a distant range of hills across a plain in the other direction form a second edge. Placing the house on the outside bank of a big bend in the river provides two more edges to their world because there is a limited distance which they would travel along the river path from day to day. This allows the story to hint at the existence of other worlds beyond those limits, where in this case ‘world’ means places and people unknown. The river also allows for imagery and parallels. Like life, it flows remorselessly onwards towards an unknown destination. It can be picturesque and gentle, and it can be dark and foreboding. Its banks are an ideal place to lay in the sunshine and talk about dreams and hopes while watching the clouds, and the track along the bank that leads out along the edge of the forest becomes an easily identifiable path, which could also subconsciously be interpreted as a ‘way of life’, which leads on towards other possible places.
Putting the house in a clearing allows space for action to occur, and for the placing of a fire pit a short distance away, which is another setting for late night discussions about life and the universe. It also provides the location for a quaint old wooden building called The Dovecote, which is nearing the end of its life. This acts as a theatre for important scenes and, like the other characters in the story it is also drifting onwards towards its inevitable death.
Setting much of the story outside, with the river and the forest and the fire, allows me a great deal of scope for descriptive writing. Although the writing gurus are fond of repeating their mantra of ‘show don’t tell’ there is still a place for descriptive writing. Not everywhere of course, but in works that are heavy on the narrative and what is called the ‘omni’ point of view, it does still work, and stories involving settings are perfect for it. The flickering flames, the dark shapes against the trees, the sparks, the smoke, the blue skies and clouds, the beautiful sunsets, the sparkling starlit nights, the thunderstorms, and the snowflakes which spiral out of the sky and lend their name to the title of the book. Billions of snowflakes, one for every soul in the world, and no two the same… or so you might be led to believe.
As a story about lives and worlds and dreams, ‘Snowflakes’ is just as much about the setting as it is about the plot and the characters. It’s such an important element of the the story, and I can’t imagine making it work any other way.
Thanks for that Steve, a really interesting insight into Snowflakes. If you’d like to know more about Steve you can do that here https://SteveCatto.blog
Or for more about the book: https://Snowflakes.blog
You can order a copy of the book online here: Snowflakes
Back of the book details
Discovering that you can’t find your way back home can be quite disturbing, but when there’s fish to catch, food to grow, animals to hunt, and a boy to share, the world turns out to be quite tolerable really. What more could a girl want?
The problem might be that the world doesn’t find it particularly tolerable, because life is going on and no-one’s really doing anything, except enjoying themselves. That’s got to stop, there’s work to be done!
Time to send in the little grubby girl with the big eyes and the long dark hair… and maybe the monkey. That’ll put the cat among the pigeons.