Monday, October 21, 2013

Digging Deeper: Perfect Places

Physical location and time frame are critical to me nail down while I write. If it weren't for the crucial story element of setting, this directionally challenged writer would be utterly lost. Last month I dug deeper with some general principles of story setting using the analogy of antique jewelry. In honor of our recent Columbus Day celebration let's focus on exploring story location.

Stories have the ability to transport us to another time and place. Sometimes I'm asked how an author chooses that place. What makes an interesting location to set a story? At times, the project has requisites for a particular location. Other times it is up to the authors discretion, imagination, and interest.

Readers want to fall in love with a story's location. In fact, sometimes they will pick up a book based on location alone. And since the author must spend such a great deal of time focused on the location throughout the writing process, they need to love the location as well. I know I do and grow continually more fond of the place as I write. After all it is my job to learn about all of the interesting details I can about a place. Of course an author can create a fictitious place, but it is always wise to base it on somewhere real so it seems genuine.

Click to enlarge, then right click "view image" to magnify.

Mt.Washington, NH sign.
Must an author visit setting's location in person for each novel that she writes? There are two ways to learn about a location—remotely and personally.

Remotely: Online research, reference books and maps (state and town), interviews (phone or email). My favorite ways to do this are to contact historical societies via their website and through email and to research historical places through archived documents, travel guides, and old books, physically or online.

Most of my exploring is done with Google:

Google Search - for information on the locale. I look for context nationally, by state, region, county, town, and street addresses where where scenes will take place. Wikipedia, and state, county, and town websites are very helpful sources to investigate. Historical societies (state, county, and town), genealogy sites, Ray's Place, and The Bureau of Land Management have a good deal of information readily available. Discover notable landmarks, buildings, bridges, travel routes and means of travel during your time period that your novel is set. Be sure to learn about the boundary lines and names of the areas for the time period, as early names and boundaries often changed.

Google Maps - View the exact location of the story to get a good feel for it visually including boundaries, terrain, bodies of water, etc. Satellite, terrain, 3D topography, distances, traffic, and photos are available.

Google Books - Custom search by any time period to find state, county, official town histories, and historical accounts by persons associated with the locale.

Project Gutenberg
and Internet Archive are also good sources for archived online books.

Personally: Destination visits, historical and living history museums, interviews (in person). Obviously this is the best way to experience a place, but I find it extremely helpful to do much of my remote research first. That way I am better prepared when I go to find answers to my questions and can make the most of my time while I am there. There is nothing like a research trip and I have many memorable ones and can often use information I accumulate on several projects, especially when I go to living history museums where I can learn about how people lived as well as where they lived.

The location of a novel is a wonderful way to not only establish a setting, but once the writer learns about the personality of the place, with its landscape, architecture, population, peoples, industry, travel, education, religion, politics, customs, and events can provide rich detail to shape the home where the characters will "live."

What places do you like to read or write about? Have you ever been somewhere that you think would make a great location for a novel?

Carla Olson Gade writes Inspirational Historical Fiction and is celebrating the recent release of Pattern for Romance and Mistletoe Memories. She enjoys history, genealogy, graphic design, and photography and sharing her writing journey at Adventures of the Heart.


Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thanks for this, Carla, and for all those links, too. I love visiting the British Isles and think London a great city to have for a setting.

Anonymous said...

I think a research of Elgin, Ks. would make a good historical book. That is where the Texas cattle drives went to put the cattle on the train. There's still a low spot across from where I lived that had been spot of the large vvat the cattle had to be dipped in to rid them of the ticks that could cause Tick Fever. It was a wild west town back then. This was the town where my husband was born, after his parents had moved from N. Carolina , I think about 1910. Now, people still live there but it is listed in some of the Ghost Town books.
Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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