What makes a lovable setting? I don’t know yet.
Obviously, it’s going to vary from person to person; we all like to read different things. But people who like to read often talk about books they didn’t want to put down, because they liked the characters and setting so much. I have a handle on what characters I like, but I haven’t really thought about the settings I like.
The first thing I did was look through my handy dandy bookshelf to find books whose settings struck me as being good. (I arbitrarily decided not to use any visual media, like TV, comic books, or movies, in order to not confuse the issue.) I did not actually flip open the books to read how well things were described–I’m not at the point where I’m trying to find out how such effective (affective?) settings were built, just which ones I like the best.
They seemed to fall into three groups.
The first group was fantastic settings:
- The Princess Bride
- Stephen R. Donaldson’s Mirror of Her Dreams books
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- Tad Williams
- Tamora Pierce
- The Neverending Story
- Chronicles of Amber
- Piers Anthony
- Douglas Adams
- The Eye of the Dragon
The fantastic settings were the settings that I tended to think of first as being good settings.
The second group was mundane settings:
- Jane Austen
- Dorothy Sayers
- Sherlock Holmes
- Janwillem van der Wettering
- Agatha Christie
- John D. MacDonald
But these were the books that I wanted to take down and flip through. Most of these were mysteries.
The third group was urban fantasy settings, that is, setting with magic in the “real” world:
- The Circus of Dr. Lao
- Artemis Fowl
- The Diamond Age
- Sorcery and Cecilia
- The Mysterious Benedict Society
- Cherie Priest
- Harry Potter
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel
- The Club Dumas
I seem to have a fondness for books of manners with a dash of magic.
There were also some books that felt like they didn’t have a setting, the setting was so integrated:
- Lord of the Rings
- Dumas pere
- Jorge Borges
In this last set of books, I wasn’t wistfully thinking I wanted to read the books again so I could get back into the setting so much as I felt that those settings had been so thoroughly integrated into yours truly that I couldn’t actually leave. Having once read these books, my perceptions had been so changed that I couldn’t un-read the books.
I don’t know if I want to actually write one of these last books.