Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tip O'Day #309 - Where to Set a Story?

Guest blogger Graham Smith on choosing settings.

How do writers choose a location or a setting for their stories? There are lots of different answers to this question, so all I can do is relate my own experiences and choices. My own take on this is somewhat varied as I use real, fictional and amorphous locations for my stories.

First, there is the novel I’m writing which is set in my neighbouring county. I purposely chose to set my novel in Cumbria and The Lake District because I am familiar with the county and the dialect of the locals and I have an understanding of local issues and the mindset of the populace.

Another deciding factor is a purely lazy one. Cumbria is on my doorstep and if I need to research something then I know I can jump into the car and within a couple of hours I’m exactly where I want my characters to be. All I have to do then is look around and make a few notes. If I want to get a feel for local news there is always a paper I can buy at a newsagents. Or I can head into a cafĂ© or bar for a leisurely lunch and do some industrial level eavesdropping to pick up local dialects and speech patterns.

Second, there is my first collection of short stories, Eleven the Hardest Way, which has nine of the eleven different stories taking place in un-named locations. There is no reason for this other than the fact that a precise location was not important to the story. Take Shooting Stars - where an assassin lies in wait at a movie premiere - it doesn’t matter whether the action is in London, Paris, LA or any other major city. What matters is the assassin, the target and the reason for the intended assassination. All other factors contribute but within the realm of the story the location can be anywhere and as such becomes less important. A caveat to this though, is that when choosing a non-specified location the author must still imbue an atmospheric element to the story.

Third, I have another collection of short stories, Harry Charters Chronicles, which I’ve set in a fictional city called Mariscoper. Hands up here, I made a conscious decision to make up a location as when I was writing the stories I was so involved with the writing that I didn’t want to stop and start researching a location. A quick Google map search gave me a few suggestions and then after a spot of renaming I had Mariscoper, a playground for my protagonist I didn’t need to research. I couldn’t possibly get it wrong as there is no such location. This allowed me complete freedom. As I wrote further pieces featuring Harry, Mariscoper evolved to have docks, a major river and neighbouring cities not to mention a college.

Where do you set your stories?

Learn more about Graham at his blog.

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