Location, Location, Location (or Choosing a Setting for Your Story)

April 22, 2011

Tall, skyscrapers lined the street, leaving just a peak-a-boo view of the sky…no, wait… the endless prairie stretched out before them, nothing but antelope and sagebrush for hundreds of miles…no, no, how about…waves pounded the beach, while seagulls squawked overhead…

How do you decide location for your book? Do you choose someplace you’ve lived? Does the spot become your next vacation destination? Do you let the character tell you, knowing that it’s easy enough to research any location? Or do you create a location that fits your story and exists only in your head?

So far, I’ve used only real locations. I’ve lived in most of the places where my stories have been set, but there have been a couple that I’ve never even visited. I’m definitely most comfortable with places I’ve actually been. I like experiencing the sights and smells first hand, feeling the energy and pace that are so different from place to place. Of course, even visiting a place doesn’t give you a true perspective of a place. Living somewhere takes it to a different level. You start to know the people, the culture, the politics in a whole new way.

For some stories, culture and setting are critical to the plot, and for others, they are merely a backdrop. How and where a hero will propose to a heroine in Uniontown, Ohio may be different from how and where the hero would propose in San Diego, California. The weather the heroine experiences while trying to race to a loved ones hospital bedside will be different in Phoenix, Arizona than in Sheridan, Wyoming…and if you’ve created your own little Narnia, well, then your reader needs enough information to feel like they’re being transported to the unique land that you’ve created.

So what about you? Do you set your stories in places you’ve lived? Visited? Researched? Or totally fabricated? Do you put your characters places you’ve been? Or long to visit? Is it important to you that you can physically walk down the streets your character walks, or does a virtual walk on Google Maps give you what you need?


One Response to “Location, Location, Location (or Choosing a Setting for Your Story)”

  1. Hi, Tari!

    I write locations I know. Fortunately I’ve lived in many places and visited even more. Last year, we rented a vacation home on a lake in North Carolina, and the minute I walked into the beautiful structure and spied the amazing view, I knew the house had to belong to a character. I had to write the story behind the people living there. That house became the location for my most recently finished ms.

    I also once toyed around with writing a story about a fictional country. I like the idea of having total control over a location. Maybe someday.


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