You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.
On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. 🙂 )
Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.
Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)
The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)
Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. 🙂 ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.
Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.
But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.
And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.
Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.
Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.
Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.
And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline 😀
Have a great writing weekend!