Besides actual location, setting also includes information peculiar to what is happening in the location. For example, in my novel Beyond Blood, the main character PI Dana Bowman goes sailing with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Fielding has been sailing for years but this is Dana’s first time aboard a large sailboat – more like a small yacht. So I combined my limited sailing background with checking in with an expert in this area and also some reading online and in books about sailing..
A few years ago I wrote a newspaper story on a fellow, a seasoned sailor, who was planning to sail at least partway around the world. His “sailboat” (the small yacht type) was anchored in the Harbourfront area of Toronto Harbour. I made an appointment to interview him for the story and met him on his boat. When I arrived he was swabbing the deck.
I told him I was also going to ask a few extra questions for background information for a novel I was writing. He gave me the boat tour – it is amazing what can be packed into the small enclosed area below – everything from a small kitchen to a bathroom to a place to sleep. He was very informative but he did not take me out on Lake Ontario. So, I had to go back a few years when my son, still a child, and I went sailing with my friend and her boyfriend – for the feel of it, to remember you always wear a life jacket when on a sailboat, to how the winds affect the sailing, to falling into the water. No, I (who can’t swim) didn’t fall in, but my friend, a good swimmer did. She was okay with her life jacket on and just laughed about it as she swam the short distance back to the boat and climbed back aboard. But it gave me information for Beyond Blood although no one falls in the water.
So when Dana first goes out on the water with Fielding, I work it in as a friendly lesson while avoiding making it an expository or Sailing 101. Here is a short excerpt:
“Here put on a life jacket.” He handed me one which I donned. Fielding put on the other one and shoved the cooler under the floor. “Please sit down while I hoist the sail.”
” Need any help?”
“No.” He looked into my face. “Fine, but you have to obey orders if you want to crew.”
“Aye, aye sir.” I saluted,
Fielding moved away and moved into what resembled a cockpit, lowered the centreboard and removed the tarp, exposing two sails.”
“Here, store the tier below deck.”
Fielding pointed to where the cooler rested. Taking hold of the tier, I folded it and placed it below deck.
“Maybe I’ll just watch this time.” I sat down on one of the benches. (From Beyond Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2014, Blue Denim Press)
Dana does help more a bit later. The whole chapter is not about learning to sail as Fielding and Dana also use the time to find out more about each other until…
Well, I’m not going to say what happens or how this chapter ends.You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out. Click on the book cover at the top to find out one of the places the book is available. For now, I’ll just say that later in the novel, Dana has to use her sailing knowledge to try to save a family member. So, the first sailing episode was not just a respite from all the murder and mayhem, but also served a purpose – showing how Dana learns something about sailing so that when she has to use it in a life-threatening situation, it is not a skill pulled out of air with a quick explanation such as “I (Dana) learned to swim a few years ago” tacked on to it.
That is something else to remember. You may have more leeway in a novel to go off on so-called tangents, but make sure they have something to do with character development and plot – especially in mystery novels.
Sharon A. Crawford