Welcome to the fifth instalment of the series that takes a deeper look into my story writing and reading ventures past, present and future.
I had actually intended to do this one as part four, but decided to run with editing for that one instead.
I think it’s a fairly obvious thing to say that any story needs to be set in the right location in order for it to be a good one. It perhaps isn’t the most important element as a talented writer can make any location suit the story, but it always helps if there are certain places and landmarks along the way that can aid the flow of what you’re writing in some way.
Let’s take Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon stories for example. The locations of those stories are perhaps the most important thing, even more so than Professor Langdon himself. Let’s face it; it could’ve been any old symbologist that did the job. It could’ve been a different one every single story. What mattered was the where. The clues were all in precise locations.
Some Clive Cussler novels are location specific too, but not all. They‘ve always been more about the who rather than the where for the most part, but the occasional story has placed a lot of emphasis on where it was taking place. Sahara for example (recreated into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey and really didn’t do the novel justice).
I’ve usually taken the setting seriously when it comes to my writing. Although the Brian Jacques style one I wrote at around eleven-twelve years old wasn’t too carefully considered. I more or less decided on Gibraltar as the setting on a whim. The Medieval era time setting was implied, but never actually mentioned. I didn’t know much about Gibraltar, but went with it anyway. I don’t think that mattered to me as much as getting the story written at the time.
Horror Holiday definitely had the setting more in mind. Ibiza was always going to be the place as I obsessed over it at fourteen. It was my Eden. I had a decent geographical knowledge of it too, which helped, though I did throw in some fictional landmarks too. The Hotel Del Mar where Jay and his friends stayed in San Antonio was a figment of my imagination. Asesino’s grotty little shack in the woods was dreamed up too along with a few other places the characters wound up in across the two stories; a club named Pleezya just one of them
In the prologue, Jay’s house is a factual one on the street my elder sister used to live. I describe a car chase and have an area of my hometown in mind whilst writing it. I had to keep this part geographically relevant to me so my youthful mind could keep up. Older and uglier now, I could describe a car chase in a fictional city on Venus if I wanted to, but back then I was building my confidence in descriptive and creative writing.
The comedy series Mike and I wrote, Pacific Rise (Twenty Somethings), was always going to be set in a flat (apartment for my American friends). It made the most sense from a filming perspective. The town itself didn’t much matter as it would’ve been shot in various indoor locations with only a handful of outdoor ones.
You can work locations to your advantage in fiction writing if you’re familiar with said locations, but the same can be said if the location itself is fictional because only you really know what the location looks like.
I stuck with factual locations in A Love Worth Dying For; mainly in and around Greater Manchester or nearby. Mark Woodward is from Ramsbottom; a town a few miles up the road from Bury whose swimming club I represented for my last season before quitting the sport. His friends John and Chris are from Stalybridge and Rochdale respectively; Stalybridge the next town over from my native Ashton and where a lot of my family live. My mum and dad were both born there.
Mark has moved to live in Manchester City Centre itself when the story really kicks in. I did this again to keep it relative and so I could name genuine locations. I felt it also made his player lifestyle much more achievable as well.
Then we come to my novel. The setting is very much factual, though it’s a region of the world I’ve never visited. Not even close. That in itself has taken a certain level of bravery because I really am leaving myself open to criticism for lack of geographical knowledge, though with it being set three hundred years ago I’m kind of banking on people not being quite so finicky with the details.
I’ve tried to keep distances and travel timeframes as realistic/accurate as possible throughout; often consulting Google Maps to assist that side of things as well as my scant knowledge of nautical speeds. It’s all wound up being quite mathematical. I’ve even factored in potential wind speeds and directions to affect travel times. I figured if it was worth doing then it was worth doing properly.
The by-product of writing this novel is that I now really badly want to go to the Caribbean and see the places I’ve referenced with my own eyes; chief among which, Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas (New Providence and Grand Bahama more accurately). Hopefully I’ll make enough money as a published author to visit the region one day. There’s no law against dreaming…
The location in Dead End, the novelette I’m currently posting incrementally here on WordPress, is fictional. It’s based loosely on the area I live, but it’s an area of my creation and the first time I’ve ever written a story in a fictional location. I highly doubt it’ll be the last either as I’ve enjoyed the creative freedom it’s afforded me.
I wouldn’t say I’ve placed major importance on the location of my stories as such, but it has been strongly considered. The Caribbean location of my novel was pretty much unavoidable because of the theme of the story. Where else aside from maybe southern or western Africa are you going to set a pirate tale taking place in the early 18th century? You need the right setting for whatever story you’re writing.
I feel where the story is set can almost become an extra character if utilised properly. It can add to the flow and drama. I think the best story I’ve ever read where the location played an instrumental part is arguably John Grisham’s The Last Juror. I wasn’t sure about whether it was my kind of book when I was given it to read, but I was transfixed from start to finish and the fictional setting of Clanton, Mississippi was just about perfect in terms of the racial divide of the time in the Southern States. If you haven’t read The Last Juror then I suggest you do.
Perhaps one day I’ll flex my literary muscle by making the location itself the main character of the story. That’d be an interesting one to write…
How much emphasis do you place on location when writing your fiction? Is it something you place importance on or could you set any story anywhere and still write a masterpiece? What location do you think would make for a great story? Comments are welcomed as ever and I’d love to hear your thoughts.