Julieverse Reads: Books with settings so incredible, they become characters

Author Judith Keim recommended a selection of books for Julieverse Reads that focus on more than their beautiful stories, they highlight a setting so prevalent in a story that the setting becomes a prevalent character. Her recommended selections are books written in beautiful, descriptive prose. Books that focus so deeply they make you feel like you’re living within the story. Judith’s newest book, Fat Fridays, will be available on August 12! Pre-Order it now.

Author Judith Keim curated a list of books for the Julieverse Reads series. This lists focuses on books where the setting is so rich it becomes a character in the novel

A story is held together by many things – plot, characters, motivation, action, tension, growth, resolution of conflict, etc. But the sometimes unrecognized glue to a good story is its setting. A vibrant setting gives a reader much more than a sense of location, it becomes a living addition to the story with the interweaving of these five senses – sight, touch, taste, smell and hear. And depending on what kind of book it is, the setting can be crafted to include the emotions, mood and tensions of the story.

Below are some phrases from various authors who create great settings for their books. (Because I did not seek permission to quote exactly from their work, I’m using bits and pieces of phrases as a way to demonstrate how adding just a word or two to descriptions can create great settings.)

And Then I Found You, by Patti Callahan Henry, curated by Judith Keim as a book with a setting so rich it becomes a character. See the rest of the list

And Then I Found You by Patti Callihan Henry

Various regions of our country have things that are specific to them. For instance, stories set in the south tend to have lyrical descriptions that roll slowly across the page like words from a southern tongue. Patti Callihan Henry’s book – And Then I Found You–has many such passages. (A Southern town thick and swollen with possibility, a river so wide and rich a world could have been born in its basin, iron-framed windows allowing light to pour like lemonade into rooms).

A Long Time Gone, by Karen White, curated by Judith Keim as a book with a setting so rich it becomes a character. See the rest of the list

A Long Time Gone by Karen White

Karen White’s – A Long Time Gone – has more wonderful descriptive passages for southern settings. (Sitting under a cypress tree filling lungs with thick, warm air, collapsing on beds in clouds of flowery perfume and baby powder, butterflies flitting around the wallpower. One can quickly sense hot afternoons, people resting from the heat on a hot southern day.)

(I was in the same RWA group as Patti and Karen at one time and I remember when Patti’s first book came out. The description of her work was lyrical. I’ve always admired it and her, along with Karen, who is a fun, hardworking, talented person.)

At the Water's Edge, by Sara Gruen, curated by Judith Keim as a book with a setting so rich it becomes a character. See the rest of the list

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Unseen foreign places can become real to readers with a strong sense of setting. In Sara Gruen’s book – At the Water’s Edge – her descriptions of the area surrounding Loch Ness become a character for someone like me, who’s never been there. (Some phrases: A majestic castle whose ruined battlements were like so many broken teeth against the leaden sky. A wooden sign hanging over the entrance creaking in the wind. Already I sense a cold, gray windy place.)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, curated by Judith Keim as a book with a setting so rich it becomes a character. See the rest of the list

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s book – The Nightingale – (France in 1939- roses tumble like laughter along an ancient stone wall, mortar crumbling from stone walls, rough willow baskets filled with food, tiny white blossoms floating in the air like bits of cotton.) I can almost see an old French town surrounded by meadows, can’t you?

As shown above, with just a few words, using mere fragments of lovely descriptions, a reader can get a wonderful sense of setting and understand the kind of story it is. When writing your own novels, I suggest making a list of words you associate with the settings in your story–both visual and emotional. Then weave those words into your descriptions of what your characters are seeing and feeling! It’ll add a dimension to your story that readers love. Have fun making your stories come alive with settings that stir the imagination!


Brief descriptions from some of my books follow:

The Talking Tree, by Judith Keim

The Talking Tree (The Hartwell Women Trilogy-1) – Light shone through the sparkling glass like a lighthouse’s guiding beam to a wayward ship. Inside, I knew, there would be peace and contentment.

Sweet Talk (The Hartwell Women Trilogy-2) – Upon occasion, I made my way down the hillside to the center of town, where a number of stores clustered around a small marina like ducklings waiting to dive in for a swim.

Straight Talk (The Hartwell Women Trilogy-3) – I looked out the window at the Charles River. Triangular white sails on a number of small sailboats dipped and soared above the water, like gulls playing in the wind.

Breakfast at the Beach House Hotel – Standing on the balcony off the bedroom, I gazed down at the pool below. The waterfall at one end sent glistening ripples dancing across the pool’s surface. The sound of the tumbling water was almost drowned out by the lapping of the Gulf on the broad, white beach beyond the house. Peace, such as I hadn’t known for a long time, wrapped around me.

Judith Keim curates books with settings so prevalent they become a characterJudith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and long-haired dachshund, Winston, and other members of her family.  Growing up, books were always present – being read, ready to go back to the library or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family a wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges with strength and find love along the way.

As J.S. Keim, I write children’s middle-grade stories. I love writing about kids who have interesting, fun, exciting experiences with creatures real and fantastical and with characters who learn to see the world in a different way.

I have a story in Chicken Soup to Inspire a Woman’s Soul and a story in Belle Book’s Mossy Creek Series – A Summer in Mossy Creek. Some of my stories have finalled in RWA contests and three of my children’s stories have been published in magazines – Highlights for Children, Jack and Jill and Children’s Playmate.

I hope you enjoy my stories as much as I enjoy telling them!

More from Judith: Judith’s webpage | Facebook | Amazon | Linked In | Twitter



mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. Judith Keim says

    Julie, Thanks so much for letting me share my thoughts on settings. I love books that take me places and make me feel part of the scene. And thank you for showing some of my work. Hugs to you for your kindness and enthusiasm!

  2. Priscilla Horn Warren says

    SO descriptive – Judith, your words and reflections truly put the reader into the setting! Thank you for being so eloquent!

  3. says

    Judy, I so agree with you about setting. It is such an important part of every well-crafted story I’m shocked when an author fails to deliver one! Your examples really drive that point home. Well done!

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