Scoping out locations for your novel #1

First of all, if you’ve noticed that I haven’t responded to comments since Thursday, it’s because I am on a writer’s retreat.  Yay!  Another one?  Yeah, I am giving it a go.

I have higher hopes for this one, and I am not up against a super-steep deadline, so I’m not in a panic about time constraints. I’ll be back on Monday.

Okay… back to today’s topic…

In general, I am a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer.  The settings of my stories are different planets, or fantasy worlds.  For my new novel, though, I decided to try something different.  Yes, it is Sci-Fi, but instead of taking my readers to the alien’s planet, I decided to bring the aliens here.

Has this been done before?  Yes, of course.  I’m just putting a little different spin on it that I think will be fun.

So, I need a setting.  Since we are on Earth this time, I can’t make everything up, so I am trying to force the story into buildings and locals that actually exist.

I have to admit… it’s a lot easier to write about another planet.  If I need something for the story, I just create it.  I’m grinding my teeth looking at maps and judging distances.  It’s so much easier to build a world from scratch exactly how you want it.

Where’s my setting?  I chose Southern New Jersey on the East Coast of the USA for two reasons.  #1:  I’ve been there a lot, so I can relay the “feel” of it.  #2:  I need four separate “places” for the story to develop.  South Jersey has all four.  Easy breezy, right?  Well, not entirely.

As I’ve done in the past, I’m going to split this post up into a couple of weeks, because otherwise this post will definitely get too long.  We’ll start next week with the road trip I took with my kids … driving the route my characters would be walking.

What about you guys?  Have you ever tried to develop a story from REAL places?  How’d you do?

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17 responses to “Scoping out locations for your novel #1

  1. I started a vamp novel based where I used to love with my mum. Since the story is post hostile takeover, it was really cool to make all the places I knew burnt out shells of themselves.
    We’ll see if I still like it so much when I go back to it.

  2. Good luck with your setting hunt! It is easier when you can make things up in fantasy & SciFi. I always make maps, when I’m creating my own world. For my historical stuff, that was a lot of work! I set it at two historical sites that have been turned into living museums, so that part was easy. I’d visit those places, only 20 minutes from home. The hard part was trying to imagine the locations almost 200 years ago. Who owned which pieces of property? How long did it take to travel from here to there on horseback? Walking? In a Red River cart? Those things were tough and required lots of trips to the city’s Archives to dig up the information. Hope all goes well with your research! :)

    Oh! I find that if you can locate travel guides to the places you want as your settings, that helps a lot because they usually have maps with distance counters along with plenty of info about where to eat and other places of interest. I’m always scrounging the discount tables for these at bookstores. Used book sales are good for that, too. :)

  3. In my small-town contemporary romance, I use a real place that I know reasonably well, but call it something else. That way, I have a real venue I can Google Map, but can also make stuff up as needed. Have fun in New Jersey.

  4. I write fiction and creative non-fiction. One particular location sneaks into a lot of my stories, be it setting or memories I recall.

  5. I write historical, so I always set my books in real places. Russia, Estonia, Manhattan, Newark, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, France, Israel, the Dutch East Indies, lots of places. In the future, I’d love to write novels set in places I’ve never written about before, like Japan and India.

  6. Yeah, I definitely stuck with real places in my novel. I could imagine the scenes better that way…but you’re right, sometimes real places become an obstacle. You want something to happen in such and such way, but that places doesn’t allow it. I did make up a couple places to be in my real places; if it was a place that had a negative connotation and I didn’t want to name real places that might get wind of how I used their establishment negatively in my book and get mad at me, I just made up a new place and put it in a different location and changed its name; but it’s based off a true place (but I’ll never tell you what one).

  7. I prefer to keep my fiction based on dark reality. My first book was set in Vermont and my current book is set in Tampa, Florida. I’ve been to Vermont (eons ago, as a kid) but never to Florida. I choose the U.S. because their way of living is similar to ours. Whatever I don’t know about each place I research online. I actually have a Tampa police officer who is helping with the criminal details.

  8. My story takes place in Philly because I lived and went to school there, similar to why you chose south Jersey, I guess.

  9. Interesting timing on this for me. I am going over a beta reader’s comments and she asked the name of the city(s) where the novel takes place. I wrote them as anonymous locations. Hmmm? Name the cities?

  10. I used a real small town for an urban fantasy book–an alternative version of this world, split off more than 20 years ago. So I researched weather, geography, neighboring towns, etc, but made up changes to the town itself.

  11. Well, “Death Out of Time,” although time travel/sci-fi, is set mainly in our time. I do use some “real” places in VA/DC/MD for some scenes, but most are set in a fictional VA suburb of DC, “Langley Heights.” It leaves me freer with setting descriptions that don’t have to match a real suburb like McLean. But I can’t get creative with the National Mall!

  12. In my novel, 18 Things, the setting is in Grand Haven, Michigan. I was inspired to use it b/c that’s where I spent my summers. I used many real places from the town b/c the business has been there forever and I wanted to make it like a tribute to the town and maybe inspire others to visit:-) Although I still had to make some things up, I tried to keep it true to life as much as possible.

  13. Robert Perry

    For so long, my stories had such a strong existential feel, that the location, and entire story, used but one location, usually some place dark and void of time constraints. Now, however, I am trying to utilize some local settings for my stories. It can be easier for the writer since they don’t have to create an actual location. At least it has been for me. Good luck with it.

  14. Interesting. I’ve tried my hand at a few different genres, mainly in short stories but my WIP novel is a contemporary YA set mainly in Victoria Australia, not surprisingly, where I’m from. I’ve set part of it in a small country town I’ve only visited once. It has a population of only a couple of hundred so I hope the locals can forgive any accidental or deliberate discrepancies with the real place. Another large part is set in Melbourne, even closer to home. Obviously it’s ideal because of my familiarity with the city.
    I do feel a little daunted when I need to take my protagonist to places I haven’t been. It is as I write these parts when I feel more like a liar than at any other time.

  15. I envy that you drove the path your characters will be walking. That’s really exciting. I’ve spent hours walking Google Maps Street View and poring over floor plans of real buildings. Having been to the cities I write about helps, but using the street view has kept me from relying completely on memory. Have more fun at your retreat! :-)

  16. I’m pretty firmly a fantasy writer myself. I haven’t tried the whole real world-based story yet, but I have a couple of ideas that seem to want to be written that way. One’s on the back-burner and the other is (fortunately/unfortunately) a recent addition that’s raging around in my mind like a bull in a china shop. We’ll see what happens when I get to Saul’s turn. In the meantime, I’ll be watching your progress with it to see if I can pick up some tips or lessons on doing it.