Location, Location, Location – Where to Set Your Story

For some stories, you know exactly where the story needs to be set. You know the place, either because you’ve been there, or you feel like you’ve been there. If you’ve been or lived where you’re setting the story, some might say that it’s a slam dunk to create your setting. Not necessarily so. Knowing a town intimately might mean that what is the “norm” for you is something that you can no longer pick up on, but that might set your setting apart in other ways.

We all feel we know NYC from movies, TV and books, but does that mean we can write it?

We all feel we know NYC from movies, TV and books, but does that mean we can write it?

Setting is more than just the buildings on a map. It’s the sights, sounds, smells and energy of a place.

When writing a locale different to your own experiences, how do you go about it? E.L. James, for all you may or may not like her writing, never visited Seattle. Did that stop her from painting a pretty decent picture? No way. She had this pretty neat tool called… um, Google Street View? And the internet in general.

Diana Gabaldon wrote Outlander, the first novel in her series, without having ever visited Scotland. Now, that was pre-internet, but with a research background to her name, she did a pretty fine job of it. You can feel, hear, smell and taste Scotland in her rich descriptions.

I’ve been to the Isle of Arran (lived there in fact) and it’s heavily influenced my stories. I can describe the views, the smell of the sea air and the way grannies zip down the road in their motorized buggies like Formula One drivers. I’ve never been to Portland, but it’s inspired the home town for my heroine. I had a struggle with this one. Why did I choose Portland? Partly because I’m using the theory that if my heroine is American instead of Canadian then my novel will have more marketability, and partly because my heroine is working in the world of advertising. Portland is home to some of the best companies, including the masters of Wieden+Kennedy (think Nike ads). Google Street view, Google Images and travel blogs were my go-to for research and inspiration.

I can’t imagine the complexity in creating a setting from scratch. Fantasy and sci-fi writers definitely have their own challenges (perhaps extremely fun challenges!) in building worlds that are unique to readers. Then again, I also feel that folks like J.K. Rowling must have a hell of a good time building Diagon Alley, Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, using the familiar and the unfamiliar to inspire.

What about you, fellow writers? How have you researched your setting? Did it come easily? Or did you just pick a place out of a hat? Do you write what you know, or do you push yourself out of the familiar?

Weekly Newsletter & Free eBook!

Signup now for inspiration to live your best life

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

, , , , , ,

3 Responses to Location, Location, Location – Where to Set Your Story

  1. Elisa December 15, 2014 at 12:08 am #

    Great post Victoria :). I had to comment because I too picked Portland for my WIP setting, for somewhat similar reasons. Have you been? I found my research was going well till I spent a few hours there. I felt schooled, haha.

    • Victoria Smith December 15, 2014 at 1:29 am #

      Hey Elisa,

      No, I haven’t been to Portland. Long story short, it’s only a small section of the book and where my heroine is from. I knew that it was a hub for advertising in the NW of the US, and I’d been to Seattle, so it seemed a good next leap. I did a lot of Google Street view for the areas that my heroine worked, even virtually walking the street that she walks in her first conflict. Fingers crossed I won’t get schooled as its in the book for 30 pages, but you never know!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Elisa December 17, 2014 at 3:57 am #

        I’m sure you’ll be fine. At least you’ve been to Seattle! I’m very thankful I went before I completed the work.

        Of course, looks like you’re having tons of fun on your trip!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

%d bloggers like this: