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  1. Eli Dahle
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    Eli Dahle New Member

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    Is there a bias among writers and critics toward cities as a setting?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Eli Dahle, Oct 18, 2013.

    Just curious about the opinion on this out there. Why I ask is that we all like to read about what we know. And given that most people (including writers and critics) live in big cities, particularly those on the coast, will a writer have an instant bias toward acceptance and greater sales if he/she uses one of the big three or four as the setting for her novel? (NY, LA, SanFran, etc.) This is assuming that all other considerations, such as quality, are set aside. I am working on a murder/mystery set in a small town in Wisconsin: the setting is ideal for the plot but I'm somewhat concerned as the setting is so obscure.
     
  2. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    I prefer places that are obscure. It allows you to play with the town more. The settings, the streets, the people. I don't see a romance novel and think "OMG! It's based in San Francisco! I must read it!!" All that matters to me is the storyline and the characters.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think this is true for film, but I've not found it to be the case for novels.
     
  4. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Stephen King almost always uses Bangor, Maine.

    Kurt Vonnegut usually refers to the Midwest, i.e. Indiana and Ohio.
     
  5. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    I like to read about what I don't know, that's the point, right? I'd think if there is a bias in favour of cities, it would be because it's easier to write what you know, not because it might be preferrable to readers.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've certainly not found this in novels, but maybe I've just not noticed.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i read fiction and watch movies almost daily and don't see that the choice of setting is either a benefit or a drawback... all that matters to publishers and bookbuyers, aside from writing quality, is the story itself and the main characters, if they're popular ones in a series...
     
  8. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Never heard of bias toward a setting especially a city in fiction.
    Unless you bore the reader with maps and directions, I don't think it's an issue.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually, I would think obscure places would have an advantage. You'd certainly stand out from the pack.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i should think exotic locales would almost always draw more readers than the 'standards'... does anyone have any reliable stats on this?
     
  11. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    "bias towards cities"...yeah, if you are writing a story set in New York you should probably use New York as a setting. Or, if you set your story in the Bay Area you might be inclined to have your story take place in San Francisco. The same goes for stories that take place in Cairo: they rarely take place in Reykjavik. :)
     
  12. Hunter56
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    Hunter56 Member

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    I don't think so, there haven't been many books I've read that are based in cities. It's mainly NYC when it is though. I think that's because many people are familiar with New York, even if they've never been there.
     
  13. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    My story is in Brisbane, Queensland Australia, but the location doesn't really have much bearing to the location, it is just that I know the city. For most people, Brisbane would be exotic?
     
  14. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @hvb Not if you live in Perth :p
     
  15. Sarahlou
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    Sarahlou New Member

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    Not to this Aussie. Brisbane is just another hot stinky capital city.
     
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  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not even to this non-aussie... brisbane is neither 'exotic' or 'glamorous'... nor even mildly interesting, as far as i can tell from all i've seen of it in news, articles, etc....

    i can't think of any city in australia that would attract the interest of readers in other parts of the world, actually... the outback, however, is a very different thing altogether... that would draw me into at least giving the first few pages a try...
     
  17. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Darwin? it looks fairly interesting?
     
  18. Sphyre
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    Sphyre New Member

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    There is plenty of fiction that takes place in rural settings. I think it comes down to what the author prefers and what the story requires. Some people love cities and urban environments, some love small towns and intimate communities or total isolation. There are just as many of one type of writer as there are of the other.

    Then there is the work that features a location that is almost another character. The details are a part of what makes the story what it is. For example, I just finished Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. He took pains to make Manhattan a tangible setting. Seanan McGuire's October Daye books take place in San Francisco and the city is much more a part of the story than New York is in her Cryptid series. She lives in San Francisco and that shows but I still like the other series, it's just that New York doesn't feel like as important an element in those stories.

    The nice thing is that you can cheat it with cities since they are constantly changing, you move away for six months and when you come back to visit a whole block may be leveled, leave for a year and the layout of your old neighborhood could be completely different. But you can also cheat with small towns. No one has ever heard of Waterville, WA so if you get some details wrong who cares? Look at Twilight, Meyers got almost nothing about Forks or Port Angeles right but those are places most people have never heard of. Or you can make up your own tiny town, it's a little more difficult to do that with a major metropolitan area.

    But the stories will be different. And readers themselves tend to not care so much, so long as everything feels right. Most readers like variety, even if they only really want to live in one sort of place.
     
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  19. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    hahahaha........
     
  20. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    Aw...Sarahlou.....:(.Brisbane is nice! Besides, my plot needs to be in a city and I know Brisbane.....
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I thought we also often read to escape what we know. When we can't travel, we often read about exotic places (or watch Travel Channel). Since we can't time travel, we often pick up period books. I really don't want to read novels about office romances or university studies -- boring! But I do want to read about adventures and faraway lands and space exploration and places I've never visited.

    Consider this: the world is really quite urbanized at this point, so wouldn't it be nice to read about the life in the country too, for a change? Take a mental vacation somewhere else than to your hectic, polluted, 9-5 life in the overpopulated city.

    As for whether novels set in big cities will sell better, can't comment on that 'cause what sells the best is not always the best quality-wise.

    Yeah, to me anyway. And probably to quite a few people who haven't been to Australia or haven't lived in big cities. In a bookstore, I sure might buy a book set in Brisbane rather than one set in London, LA, New York, if I had to make the decision based on the location... Which isn't unheardof when it comes to some of my reading choices.
    Not sure you can speak for everyone there. I mean, I haven't been to Australia, but I'd be interested to read a novel that was set in one of its big cities 'cause I have no idea what life is like there apart from what I've seen in pictures or on the news. Probably not like on an alien planet, of course, but still, I might as well read a book about Perth or Brisbane as I would read one about the bush.

    I remember thinking, hey, this is refreshing when I read this crappy semi-erotic novel Taming the Beast 'cause it took place in Oz instead of your usual, the US or UK, even though the location wasn't that important to the story.
     
  22. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    Reminds me of my grandma who enjoyed TV soaps from time to time as long as they were foreign, because she liked to see what their homes were like elsewhere, and their customs, and the like.
     
  23. Aurin
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    Aurin Member

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    Mine's set in Melbourne (and for a chapter, Adelaide) but other than mentioning the city I don't go into any detail in regards to landmarks/suburbs/so forth.
     
  24. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    I probably won't even mention the city, especially after reading the posts here!
     
  25. mmorado
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    mmorado New Member

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    Parts of my novel takes place in a small southern Illinois town called Centralia(my hometown)
     

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