Our Settings, Ourselves: Crafting Settings That Matter from Settings That Inspire, a guest post by Erica George￼
I consider myself a writer, first and foremost. It’s something that I’ve always done, and it’s something I can’t imagine my life without. My identity as a writer, however, greatly impacts and influences my job as a middle school English Language Arts teacher. If I didn’t spend summer evenings on the screened in porch on Cape Cod, the chimes softly clashing in the warm breeze, the dog stretched out in a sliver of fading sunlight as I fretted over words, and plots, and characters, and settings, then I wouldn’t be able to guide my students when they’re doing the same in my classroom. I even go so far as to try and recreate a gentle, creative coffee shop-like vibe in my classroom when we’re writing. We call them Café Days. The harsh fluorescent overhead lights get turned off, warm lamp light turned on, low jazz music warbles from the speakers, and together, we write.
Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into this creative writing unit than just constructing the perfect writing environment. Every fall, my students sit down to write the stories that matter to them, and every summer, as I’m preparing for the upcoming school year, I reflect on some of the craft elements that my previous students have struggled with. As I was thinking about physical setting—where I write and where I want my students to write—it occurred to me that creating a setting within stories can be equally as intricate.
A piece of craft advice that has stuck with me this entire time is a question that was once posed during a professional workshop I attended: “Why does the setting of your story matter? Why does your story have to take place in this setting and no other setting will do?” Often when I’m teaching a craft based lesson to my students, I’ll turn to mentor texts that demonstrate the skill, and more often than not, I’ll also turn to my own writing so they can see how I attempted what I’m asking of them. So that’s what I did.
In my latest contemporary young adult novel, The Edge of Summer, main character Coriander Cabot returns to Cape Cod for the summer, the place where the year before, her best friend drowned. Coriander (affectionately referred to as Cor) is struggling with feelings of guilt over the way she treated her best friend prior to her death, and now the ocean feels like a cold, cruel reminder of everything that passed between them. Unfortunately for Cor, she’s spending her summer completing a marine biology internship helping to study and save humpback whales. The ocean is going to play a huge role for her in the next few months! Not only is she staying in a coastal community, but she’ll be literally on the ocean more often than not.
From the onset, Cor admits that she hasn’t “been swimming since Ella died” and that she “can’t tell if it’s been purposeful or not” (21). But she understands that this will have to change. The ocean can’t be her enemy this summer, not if she’s going to help save the whales that she and Ella have so desperately loved since childhood. Cor makes her way to the beach one morning, and finally gathering her courage, she dives in, and “the sea roars in [her] ears, sand skidding past [her] skin as [she] kneels on the sea floor” (21). The ocean is still harsh for Cor, and now it’s taken on a persona even greater than that of a setting.
The sea is a part of Cor’s journey, part of what makes her who she. This story can’t take place on a mountain or in a desert; it has to be a powerful body of water, something that’s stolen something from my main character—her best friend and part of her identity. It’s no coincidence then, that Cor’s love interest, Mannix Reilly, is a lifeguard, someone who’s literal job is to save people from the sea. Perhaps even more of a problem for Cor is the fact that she’s been tasked with helping to save a humpback whale struggling after being caught in fishing gear. This whale has been the victim of human carelessness and selfishness, two character traits that Cor demonstrated time and again in how she treated her best friend.
It’s during Cor’s summer by the sea that she begins to grapple with her own story, unraveling the threads that have bound her thus far. It’s this setting that allows her to reflect and contemplate, much the way a writer would when constructing their novel. The ocean is so integral a setting that it actually becomes a part of the plot. As far as the specific setting of Cape Cod? That was easy. Cape Cod is place that is ripe with stories, stories that span centuries, even. It’s also a place I know and love, one that I can write about in detail and with passion. It’s a place I want to share with my readers.
As much as where I write influences what I write, where I’ve been influences me as person, too. Our young writers (and readers!) know deep down how their own personal settings have influenced their lives and choices, and now it’s only a matter of translating that into words. While it’s not always the easiest of tasks, it makes our writing and our stories richer in the long run.
Meet the author
Erica George is a writer of young adult fiction. She is a graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in both English and education, and is currently an MFA student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She resides in scenic northern New Jersey, but spends her summers soaking up the salty sea air on Cape Cod. Many themes in Erica’s writing rotate around environmental activism and helping young people find their voice. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring river towns, whale watching, or engrossed in quality British drama with her dog at her side.
Follow her on Twitter/Instagram/TikTok: @theericageorge
About The Edge of Summer
Fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson will be swept away by this big-hearted novel about one girl navigating first loss and first love during her summer on Cape Cod.
Saving the whales has been Coriander Cabot and her best friend Ella’s dream since elementary school. But when tragedy strikes, Cor is left to complete the list of things they wanted to accomplish before college alone, including a marine biology internship on Cape Cod.
Cor’s summer of healing and new beginnings turns complicated when she meets Mannix, a local lifeguard who completely takes her breath away. But she knows whatever she has with Mannix might not last, and that her focus should be on rescuing the humpback whales from entanglement. As the tide changes, Cor finds herself distracted and struggling with her priorities.
Can she follow her heart and keep her promise to the whales and her best friend?
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 06/14/2022
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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