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.
I 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 around) 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.
The “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 Haylen 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?”
Writers 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. “
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.
Finally, 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?