April 15, 2013

Monday Pep Rally: Location, Location, Location

Monday Pep Rally is a weekly feature where the Misfits post a question for you, the reader, to answer. You can answer on your own blog and link in the comments, or just answer here!

Hey Misfiteers, Cait here! We've talked a bit this year about setting. In January, Marieke talked about how the places we travel to can influence our writing. Last month, Dahlia talked about writing the places we call home, and at the beginning of April, Chessie talked about whether to worldbuild or not to worldbuild. And all that got me thinking about how I decide where to set my stories.

For me, a lot depends on the story. What's the genre? Obviously if it's straight fantasy, I'm not likely to set it somewhere like Paris, France, or Dayton, Ohio. But more than that, I have to really think about what the story needs. Do I need mountains? Beaches? Snow? A city or suburbs, or wide open spaces?

When I started writing ParaWars, my post-apocalyptic paranormal, I wanted someplace familiar. But more than that, I needed someplace that could easily have been reclaimed by nature in a few short years. West Virginia worked perfectly. I grew up in Virginia, hiked the Appalachian Trail. I knew the area, and from years of camping, knew just how easily the forest could take over. It felt just right, and the location pretty much came with the story.

Eyre House, on the other hand, took me a while. I had the story well before I had a location. All I knew was I needed a beach. Since it was a Jane Eyre redux, I wanted a place that had the same definitive flavor as England. The South seemed perfect. So I whittled it down. Florida wasn't Southern enough (if you live in the South, you know what I mean). Eventually I landed on Edisto Island, off the coast of Charleston, SC. A beautiful place that as soon as I found it, I knew it was right. But I'd never been, so I knew I'd need help.

But no matter how you get there, your location is important. Your setting can make or break your story. It's like a main character that acts and speaks through scenery and view. So how do you decide where to set your narrative? Is it random, or do you plan it out like you plan the story?
Photos by Cait Greer


Dahlia Adler said...

For me, I start off with how the setting will inform the story - will it be its own relevant "character"? Or will it just be a placeholder? In JUST VISITING, I needed an area that had a much more rural aspect, but in a state that also had more urban university towns - Kansas struck me pretty immediately. For THE BOOK OF ESTHER, only the name of the town really mattered, but otherwise, I just wanted it to kind of "float" in the ether; I never grounded it in any state, but in my head it's in the Midwest, maybe Ohio.

For my newest newest, though, I actually picked the location in a totally different way for me - by a law I needed the state to have. After looking through every state's variation on that law, I found that Rhode Island was the only one that had the one I needed, so that's where the story ended up!

Nicole River said...

For me there's also the added dilemma: do I set it in Canada or the US? I've never lived in the US per se, only visited. And high school (somewhat an important part of YA) is different... And in my home town it's even more different. Not to mention other stuff that might trip me up while writing. So do I take the easy way out and set the story in Ontario or something?
I thought about it for a while when starting my last wip, and came to the conclusion that, unfortunately, if I want to give a global scope to the story I'll have to set it in the US, in a big city. And for that particular story, it worked perfectly (by the way, the existence of Google Earth is proof that there is a god and she's a writer:))
But I still dream of someday writing a story set in a tiny Northern Quebec ski town. :)

Anonymous said...

Dahl, that's just crazy! Now I want to know why this law was so important...

That's kind of a cool dilemma to have, Nicole! I have a WIP I'm working on that's a Southern girl suddenly transplanted into England, where the schools are WAY different! I love all the nuances location choice can give!

Carrie-Anne said...

I write historical, and my two areas of expertise are Russian history and the WWII/Shoah era, so it's pretty much a given that I'm going to set a lot of my books in Russia and Europe. I've set books and sections of books in Russia, Holland, Germany, France, Sweden, Poland, Belgium, Italy, the Ukraine, Belarus, Persia, Israel, Hungary, Armenia, Georgia, and Estonia. I also, of course, do have books set in North America and England too. In the future, I'm planning to write some Japanese historicals, and I'd also love to write something set during the Golden Age of Islam.

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