Where am I, and where’s my car?

A few weeks ago, Mysteristas discussed selecting names for characters that had meaning and charisma. During that discussion, the topic of “place” arose, and I promised to discuss that “sense of place” in September, so here we are.

costumeI have read many books where the setting, the place, is so important that it is a character itself. Of course, glamorous vacation spots and exotic places such as Proper City, Nevada (where else do residents wear costumes all year weiraround) certainly change the plot.

Obviously, novels set on Mars or the moon are in a class by themselves. However, many other stories would be changed significantly if they were to take place in a different geographic location.

HghwayThe “Highway” and “Paradise Valley” by C. J. Box could only happen where long haul trucker “The Lizard King” could disappear on the long stretches of mostly uninhabited highway.

“Here and Gone” by Haylenhere and gone Beck works because Audra Kinney is not pulled over in a big city, but instead on a lonely highway in Arizona where a small-town sheriff controls the situation. “You’re a former addict running from Children’s Services. How much do you think your word means against theirs?”

coyle.jpgWriters also use local “color” and landmarks to add realism and flavor. Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill series is set in La Jolla, and he specifically uses street names, landmarks, and the beautiful La Jolla setting to its fullest advantage. “The sun danced off the ocean far below, and a gentle breeze slowly pushed scattered clouds around the blue sky. Idyllic. Paradise. “

shadow

Alan Drew makes Orange County a character in Shadow Man” when the citizens of a “safe” planned community are terrorized. He not only utilizes vivid descriptions of “the western sky a propane blue,” but also sets the action in the local shopping centers, freeways, and beaches.

MayorFinally, I have to confess that every time I read a book by Archer Mayor, I follow the whole adventure on Google maps as his characters wander around Vermont. His descriptions are so exact that, thanks to Google, I have driven down Putney Road, explored the pedestrian bridge, the food coop, the railroad, and the dumpster. I even visited the Green Mountain Racetrack. I came to know the setting as well as the characters.

Now, authors, it is your turn to share. Could your books take place in another location without altering the fundamental feel of the book? Do you only write about geographic locations that you know and love? Do you use writing a new book as an excuse to visit new, exotic places? Do you prefer to make up your own geography so readers like me will not use Google Maps to find your mistakes?

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Author: 3 no 7

"3 no 7" presents Katie and Barbara who write about the books they love and the books they don't.

11 thoughts on “Where am I, and where’s my car?”

  1. 3, you crack me up. Love your title. Enough said about that. In my current series, I write about Alaska, Anchorage in particular, using real landmarks which Alaskans have enjoyed identifying. In the historical series I am working on, I have a map of the town it is based upon on the wall for reference and readers will be able to identify those landmarks as well; however, I do plan more trips in the future which will be write-offs.

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    1. I have not been to Alaska, although my parents and friends did one summer. ( SUMMER!!) I’m not much for cold and snow now that I moved to southern California, so I’ll just have to “google map” your books.

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  2. I am a sucker for setting. My quirky home town is a character in my Nell books. I took her off-site in the last book, Murder by Moose, but she’s not too far away. She’s tracking a moose, so has to be in moose country! As for my other books, I have to know the setting intimately before I can write about them, so I have to have lived there. Just a brief visit isn’t really enough for me to mine the depth of details. I’m not quite as thorough with short story settings as with novels, so visiting a place works well for them. Still, there are a couple books I want to write about a place where I haven’t lived–will try to pull off the necessary research!

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  3. My Mystery Writers Mysteries could be set anywhere, I think. My next series that I’m working on will have a fictional small town based on a real one. But I’m taking a Danube cruise because I was setting something there and it looked delightful! I’m also working on a standalone that can only be set in one place … a singular apartment building, but probably any town would do. I’m more about situation than locale, I guess. I can’t imagine writing about a place I haven’t at least visited.

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    1. My neighbors took a Danube cruse last year and absolutely raved about it. (Perhaps the same one) have a great time, and you know, on a cruse ship the murderer can’t get away except at the next port.

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  4. I love when setting is a character. For my finished novel, because it takes place at a comic book convention, it doesn’t have to be set in Chicago, but I think my protagonist is very much a Chicagoan. She’s totally a big city gal, and a very specific kind.

    My WIP is set in a fictional small town outside of Chicago, and what’s most important to me is that it has the general feel of small town Midwest, even though I’ve never lived in one.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that you use Google maps for Mayor’s books! That’s true engagement and testament to great storytelling.

    I’m often asked (especially by those in my community) why I don’t set the Maggie O’Malley books in our little slice of the state or Oregon at large, and it’s a great question. For me, it’s important to have absolute freedom so that I can create the perfect environment for my plots to flourish. Having fictional cities gives me the just-right elements to take Maggie where I need her to go. Of course once I invent these cities, continuity reigns and I have to abide by the rules (and city limits!) of the places I’ve created. So I guess the freedom I crave can sometimes be an illusion.

    Thanks for a great post!!

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  6. Coming in late here as I’m recently home from visiting some different locations!

    Both of my series are based in the fictional town of Aspen Falls, Colorado. It’s located between Aspen and Snowmass. I simply kicked the ranchers out and dropped in a college town much along the lines of Boulder. What my readers seem to enjoy is when landmarks in either Denver or Snowmass or Aspen are mentioned. In The Sacrifice, a lot of the story takes place in the New Orleans area (where I’ve been) and Monterrey, Mexico (which I researched the heck out of, including Google Earth.

    Because weather and the elements can play a role in any one of my stories, the Colorado Rockies are a pretty decent pick.

    Liked by 1 person

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