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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Location Location

In Real Estate we all know it's location, location, location.  But how about in fiction? Where do you set your story?

First, I want to exclude from this discussion any fantasy or sci fi that takes place in another world or time.  Obviously, in that case, the setting has to be a world the author creates.  I'm talking about about a story that happens here and now. The nice cozy set in a small town.  The gritty crime drama or urban fantasy that needs a big city. 

But which kind of city - real or fictional?

Sometimes the story dictates the choice.  A story about a murder in the US Senate would have to be set in Washington DC.  But maybe your story just needs a city.  Any city.  Size and geography not really that important.  Do you pick one or make one up? 

If you're lucky, the city you just happen to live in - and know like the back of your hand - is the perfect setting for the story you want to write.  Congratulations. You're good to go. But what if you live in Tinytown, Iowa and your story needs a big city setting, preferably one on the coast?  Well, there's always the extended visit, if your research budget can handle it.  Learn the layout, soak up the culture, take copious notes.  Or you can try the virtual visit.  Go online and read everything you can find on your place of choice. Look at pictures.  Follow the local news.  You can get a pretty good picture of a place this way.  Probably enough to make your settng believable. But be careful, because someday someone who lives in that fair city is going to read your book and if you have your hero taking the Blue Line in Boston to Fenway Park, you've lost all credibility.  (It's the Green Line).

Hmmmm.  Make up your own city and you can't get it wrong.  So that's the better choice, right?   Well, not necessarily.  When you use a real location, a lot of the work has been done for you.  The stage is already set, the backdrop painted, and all you have to do is describe it.  Plus, if you pick a place that is fairly well known, your readers may already have a picture in their mind for you to build on.  That can be a big plus.

So which way do you go?  What do you think?  As a reader, do you prefer stories set in real places or ones from the authors' imagination?  As a writer, what kind of settings do you prefer to use.  Why?


My current word count: 15,071

I'm currently enjoying: Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber

Groaner of the day: Many years ago, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had a problem with a mountain lion. This lion had cost Roy and Dale a number of head of cattle, but what really got Roy's attention was one night the big cat crept onto the front porch of their house and mangled Roy's brand new cowboy boots, which had been left outside overnight. That was the final straw. Roy saddled up Trigger, called his faithful dog Bullet to his side, and rode off to find the mountain lion. He found the lion and shot it and tied the carcass across Trigger's back for the ride home.

As he rode up to the house, Dale, who was sitting on the porch, said, "Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes?"

[Okay, if you've been around long enough to recognize all the charactors mentioned in this groaner and get the pun (hint: it's a song), you have to admit it in a comment.]

26 comments:

Dru said...

I've done that, if a story takes place in NYC, I will visualize the area and if I know of it, it better be right.

Overall, it doesn't matter as long as I can visualize the setting in my mind with the author's descriptive words.

Left my computer glasses at home, so I'll read the groaner tonight.

Maria Zannini said...

If the author doesn't know the area, he's better off making up a city. I'm with you, I'd be griping if he missed something important.

Ref: groaner
I'm probably not too bright today--but I didn't get the groaner.

Stacy McKitrick said...

I got the groaner (groan!). Does that make me old? (Don't answer that!)

So far I've used cities that I have either lived in or visited, not that I go into much detail. I still make up establishments, except for the Atlanta Underground - that's real. The tenants, not so much, though!.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Dru - find your glasses, woman!

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria - I'll cut you some slack since you were just at death's door.

It's a play on the song lyric: "Pardon me, boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?" It's really old, but then so am I.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Stacy - Let just pretend we learned the song from our grandparents and let it go at that.

Karin said...

I guess I vote for a made up location. I do get annoyed when authors get the details of our fair city wrong. You could have a local read for location details. Otherwise a fictional city works best. Or you could rename your own city so detail oriented readers won't be able to complain.

I also got the groaner. Worse yet, I remember when it was a current pun!!

Mary Vaughn said...

Information on location is right on. If you place your story in a place based on a real setting it's best to research it as much as possible to get the right *feel.*

I grew up on Saturday morning Roy & Dale. I recognize the song because my dad used to sing it to make me laugh.

MengleOh67 said...

I tend to use self-created cities and towns for the most part but sometimes make reference to real locations... usually New Orleans French Quarter because I'm really familiar with that area. Even then I always research and double check setting and prop or storyline facts before I use them just to be sure.

Dru said...

That is not funny that 1 I knew the characters and 2 I got the groaner and knew the song. I am not old. I'm just wiser.

Mason Canyon said...

From a reader's viewpoint, I think an author can use a real setting and add to it. As a reader we know the story is make-believe so there's nothing wrong with having a little make-believe in the location too. I agree, we learned the song from our grandparents. LOL

BTW, I did enjoy Castle. It's become my favorite show followed by NCIS and Bones.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Linda Leszczuk said...

Karin - You remember when it was a current pun? Are you trying to suggest I didn't just make this up?

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mary - Can you name Dale's horse?

Linda Leszczuk said...

MB - No substitution for research, right?

Linda Leszczuk said...

Dru - Some days I feel very very wise.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mason - Hey, we have the same number one and number two favorite shows, Castle and NCIS. Assuming you mean the original NCIS and not the LA spin off.

A.M. Kuska said...

I don't get the groaner. I guess I'm not old yet. O.o

Robert Guthrie said...

I like real locations. I like authors to be bold and say, yes, this could happen there.

N. R. Williams said...

I write fantasy as you know. My own home town is a bit dull for me.

I've been around to know those characters but true confessions, I have never gotten puns. They have to be spelled out for me and even then sometimes they roll over my head.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Linda Leszczuk said...

A.M. - this one is probably harder than most. AND there's that age thing. *grin*

Linda Leszczuk said...

Robert - how do you handle making it authentic? (Assuming you don't use your home town.)

Linda Leszczuk said...

Nancy - Fantasy is different, you get to create a new world every time. Very cool.

This pun was a bit difficult. The punch line is a play on the song lyric "Pardon me, boys, is that the Chattanogna Choo Choo." Of course, it makes no sense at all if you're not familiar with the song. I picked an easier one for Friday.

TC said...

"whoo whoo"
Manhattan Transfer fan (70's remake).. and yes I know the characters even tho they R B4 my time.

Linda Leszczuk said...

TC - You got it. We'll just claim to know Roy and Dale from watching them on one of the oldies cable channels.

mattleszczuk said...

I would recommend unless you have to use specific place bsed on the story. Do some of both. Take a city that is real that suits your basic needs and just modify it as you need to. Add a building here take one out over there. That way you know a lot of the landscape up front.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Matt - But if I name the city (a real city) then need to reference a road by name, I'll have to make sure I use a real road that goes where I need it to go