How important is location to your story? Maybe the whole story takes place in a store and every detail matters to the point of knowing all about the failing furniture and why it is in the state it’s in. Perhaps the plot forces the characters to travel and you, the writer, need to know more about multiple locations. Maybe it is about time travel and location plays both a smaller part and a larger part depending on the story segment. Generally, though, location plays a great part in any story.
Note: This post is about analyzing location for your story as opposed to describing it.
What is the Story Focus?
Recently for me, it was about a tree. The tree was not the story, but it was an integral part of it. The tree was not an initial fixture of the story, so when it entered my writing, I needed to know…would the tree grow in the location I’d already chosen?
Where to Write
In this post, I am speaking to writing in a geographical location as opposed to a more specific location such as a café. Writing in areas we’ve lived in or visited will happen naturally if we don’t push ourselves to think about the setting in different ways. Writing where we’re comfortable has its advantages, among them knowing the landscape and high points and pitfalls to being there. Then there is writing in completely synthesized worlds, which happens much in Science Fiction. But if we’re not doing that, then writing in locations foreign to us requires research, or as I like to say, allows me to play.
I love picking a place at random, a general area, such as a state or small country. I visit Google maps, or some such site, and scroll around looking for desirables for my story. Location desirables include the size of the town or city as well as its proximity to other cities, population, and topography. Those are some of the first things I look for. I already have character traits swirling in my head so my location needs to fit who my characters are. Why would they live there, or visit there, or come from there?
What is it about There?
There may be many questions to ask about location before deciding on one or several. If location is an important part of a story, the following could be critical to your decision about using a place:
- What amenities does the town/city have? Does it have a downtown? Would my character need to go somewhere else to shop? Does it have public transportation?
- Does this place have things like a cemetery, places for characters to work, a music scene?
- Are there nearby natural amenities such as rivers, mountains, forests, farmland?
- What is the weather like there? Does it get tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, sleet, snow, summer thunderstorms? What is the climate like?
- What is the government structure of the place? Will it inhibit some character activity? What rules are in place making it different from somewhere else?
- Is the city a major hub of a region? How does the general population make its living? Are there homeless?
- What is the history of the area? Who are the communities? Is the character part of the community or a new arrival?
The Fiction Aspect
Some of aspects mentioned above do not have to be true to a particular place. Whether or not a place actually has a homeless population or how the general population makes its living are things that could be created as you write. They don’t necessarily have to be true to the location. However, that is a decision in and of itself. How much do I fictionalize? If you are naming the place by its true name, it is worth it to explore what readers may know about a place (topography, government structure, proximity to other places, things to do for fun, etc.) or things they could discover on the internet with a few clicks.
Your research will most likely take some deeper clicks, perhaps a visit, or even some emails to residents. You will probably turn up some of the quirks of the location, even better for storytelling. Location can be, and most likely is, an important part of many stories. Taking time to pin down the aspects of location important to your characters, your plot, is crucial to solidifying your work.
What are some the steps you take to finding a location for your fiction?
Also check out Kate Pullinger.