It isn't often I get two new writers asking me the same question, but that happened this week! So I thought I'd answer their question here on my blog...
How important is setting in your romances?
The answer is very important! For any book, no matter what genre, the setting is as integral to the story as the characters. It's your stage. It can also be a formidable character in your story.
That's right. Your setting can be a character. If you read John Sandford's WINTER PREY you will see what I mean. The story can't take place without the setting. It becomes an adversary as much as the killer the detective hunts. I also think many of Stephen King's settings become characters in his tales as well. I recently reread THE SHINING. Who could deny that the hotel doesn't have a life of its own?
When creating settings, I also think about what problems my story characters will need to perform. Settings need to speak to the story problems.
I want my setting to help and hinder and enhance those story problems. In my fantasy romances (VIRTUAL HEAVEN, VIRTUAL DESIRE, VIRTUAL WARRIOR) I wanted to convey my love of Arthurian legend, but also make my own rules. And once you set "world rules" you have to stick to them...so think them out very carefully! Then use them to help and hinder your characters!
When writing historical romance, the historical setting and the events of the time dictate much of the setting. Putting the reader in a time period so they become immersed in that world is a tough job requiring lots of research! Don't skimp on the research! The readers will know and just as a character who isn't adequately fleshed out will disappoint a reader, so will an inadequate setting make your story feel as if it isn't real.
I hope I answered the question! Characters may drive a romance, but the setting is one of the vehicles, along with plot, that carries them along!