HOW TO CREATE A FICTIONAL SETTING
When I first started writing fiction, with the intent to accomplish a novel other people would want to read, I was uncommitted as to a setting for my story. Born and raised on Long Island, I was very familiar with NYC and thought that would be a good backdrop for my story. After writing a few chapters I realized I wanted my character, an attorney, and the story to have a more relaxed pace. I decided on suburban South Carolina for no other reason than that is where I was living at the time. Originally, I picked my hometown; wouldn’t it be nice to put it on the literary map? Sure it would.
Then I decided my novel could be the first in a series. I have what I think are some great ideas for storylines, but with a main character being a defense attorney, I found that there were a lot of bad police officers/deputies, improper procedures and all around good ol’ fashion corruption. I had to rethink my setting. If it were a large city like Los Angeles, Houston or Chicago with tens of thousands of law enforcement officers no one would ever think ‘they’re all corrupt’. But a small town could give people the wrong impression. Maybe this wasn’t the wisest way for my hometown to be put on the literary map. A fictional setting was the best way to go.
The greatest advantage to creating a fictional setting is that the writer is not limited by the ‘realities’ of a real location. Since no one is familiar with it you don’t have to worry about the reader catching that a person can’t stand on the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan or that the address given to a particular building in Galveston would put it in the Gulf of Mexico. Real locations require personal knowledge or research in order to keep it ‘real.’
Fictional locations give the writer the freedom to create almost any landscape they choose. Of course there are limitations. If you want your reader to believe in your setting you need to be realistic. The reader is not going to buy your locations if you say that the character watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from his back porch in Colorado (unless your story includes a drastic change to the US coastline or your character has some really cool supervision). My town is in the center of the state of South Carolina so having my character manage the local ski resort or run whale watching tours that leave from his dock are pretty much out of the question. Anchoring my setting to what I see every day keeps it realistic.
Deciding what to call my town was not so easy.
Since I write mysteries there are bank robbers, arsonists and murderers with a sprinkling of paranormal activities and the occult thrown in for good measure. So names like Chaos Cove and Mayhem Mills came to mind, however they weren’t what I wanted to portray. My town is full of kind, hardworking and righteous people. Many of my characters are happily minding their own business when their world blows up around them. That wouldn’t be depicted in a town called Sorrow Sands.
I knew I wanted the name to evoke a picture of suburbia with fenced in yards to keep the dogs in not the neighbors out and the homes are decorated for Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. No one should think con people are abundant and predators lurk around every corner. The name should be something angelic, peaceful and serene. Something like … I don’t know … New Grace.
I truly enjoy creating my own setting. It gives me the ability to grow my location as I do all my other characters. What started out as just a couple of buildings and a few streets for my characters to travel on has turned into a small city and seven towns, all in New Grace County: population 250,000.
What I like best about creating my own town is that no matter what story a character appears in they can enjoy time on Sabine Lake or in one of two rivers, they can ride horses in Kinderly State Park or head over to Lindley for the Arts and Craft Festival. They all know Crete has the best Baklava, you go to The Castaways for a burger and both of the main characters in my Rachel Shorte and Reese Millridge series have their own reasons for loving Alexandro’s besides the great Italian food. Everyone listens to WNGN – 105.7 and reads New Grace News.
If you love to write like I do you too must set your story in some location, real or fictional. What do you prefer?
This post first appeared on SheWrites.com.