I have always been interested in set design. My roommate freshman year in college designed sets and went on to design for plays and musicals on Broadway and in other cities. I did some study of set design and was most interested in Shakespeare’s sets, which were non-existent. The players of his time acted on a bare stage with a few props. The dialogue and the theatergoers’ imaginations created the setting for the scene. Later on, of course, more elaborate stage designs became the norm, such as those for Les Miserables (stage musical version), whose designs (the fabulous rotating barricade set) are copyrighted. At the same time, plays such as Our Town had the barest of stage decorations–a few chairs, a couple of ladders for George and Emily to talk between their upstairs ‘bedrooms”– the audience supplied the rest.
The idea of the theater of the mind applies to novels as well. The writer needs just enough description to make the setting plausible and interesting. I don’t have a lot of scene description in my novel, focusing instead on events and the thoughts and conversations of the characters. Too much description, and the story bogs down. Too little, and the story doesn’t seem real.
I spent about four of my teen years on a farm, and that was enough to show me that I did not want to be a farmer. I admire farmers and the work they do, but it’s too hard and demanding for me. But I used my experience and my dislike of working on a farm to inform Otto’s feelings about his parents’ dairy farm. I think I understood enough of what’s involved in being on a farm to sketch out a convincing setting for the first part of the story.
I also set the opening of the story in Wisconsin because there were a number of German immigrants who settled there and took up farming. Pioneer Lake is fictional small town based on a number of small towns in Wisconsin.
I have to confess that I have never been to Wisconsin. I drew the portrait of the setting from research. And so, when the book comes out, read and enjoy it, and pay no attention to the man behind the screen.