Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Choosing the Right Place

Junior year of high school, my parents told me that I could only apply to five colleges. This was entirely for my own good. Left to my own devices, I would have applied to five hundred colleges. (I was a wee bit anxious about the whole thing.)

This limitation didn't stop my obsessing, of course. I needed to pick the "right" five.

My dad and I visited a total of 22 colleges during my junior and senior year of high school. We even video-taped our visits (though most of the time, we'd forget until we were driving away, and I'd just stick the camera
out the window and roll film -- unsurprisingly, my mom couldn't watch those videos without getting seasick).

It's not like college campuses are so different from each other. Classrooms, check. Dorm rooms, check. Gym. Student center. Really, your college experience is going to be shaped a lot more by what you are like than what your college is like. Also, who lives on your hall freshman year and whether your roommate is awesome or a raving lunatic.

(My roommate and neighbors were awesome. Also, some of them read this blog. *waves*)

Anyway, when I walked onto the Princeton campus, it felt RIGHT. As I've said before, it was the trees that wooed me: the elms, the oaks, the sycamores, and especially the flowering magnolia-like trees that fill the campus with their perfume every spring.

Picking a setting for a book is a lot like choosing the right college. You agonize over it. You do some research. You visualize your characters in that setting. You try to anticipate how it will change your story and the impact it will have. And in the end, you bite the bullet and decide based on a hodgepodge of actual fact, pure conjecture, and a large dose of random chance.

Once you make that decision, the ramifications are HUGE. Setting shapes both plot and characters, often in ways that surprise you. Eventually, the setting becomes so integral to the story that you can't imagine ever having considered another choice.

I chose to set Enchanted Ivy at my alma mater because I love adding magic to places that I love. It's basically wish fulfillment for me. (I did a similar thing in my debut novel Into the Wild by setting it in the town I grew up in. It's one of the perks of the writing gig.)

The campus quickly became my inspiration and an integral part of the characters and plot. I used the gardens, the eating clubs, the gargoyles, the front gate, even the mascot. The story would literally not be the same if it were set anywhere else.

35 days until ENCHANTED IVY!

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At 1:01 AM, Blogger Enna Isilee said...

I only ever applied to one college. I know. I'm boring.

At 6:18 AM, Blogger PaulaAlicia said...

Come teach creative writing at my college - our creative writing prof just made me frustrated about writing - this makes me excited.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Enna Isilee: Not boring. Decisive. Far better than my approach!

PaulaAlicia: Writing classes vary widely in usefulness. Personally, I learned way more just writing on my own than I did in any class (and I'm a total nerd who loved school).


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