1. Savoto
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    Savoto New Member

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    Location/Setting

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Savoto, Jul 1, 2009.

    One of my biggest fears when it comes to writing a story is getting the location/setting wrong. Almost all of my stories are set in the real world so I would pick real-life cities to be the setting but I don't want my story to take place in New York and the only thing making the area New York-ish is a character mentioning it.


    So, I want to now how you other writers deal the location/setting of your stories. Do you look up information on the city and wing it? Or do you not pay that much attention to the setting unless a real-life monument is involved?
     
  2. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    That's a hard one Savoto!

    For me, it's less about correct geographies or landmarks (that can easily be looked up on tourists sites or corrected after the writing) and more about how the people act on the streets, what slang they use, etc. Every place is a bit different.

    Take New Orleans - for example, we're extremely loud in retaurants. I walked into a restaurant in some random place 'up north' and it was so quiet...

    Oh, what I could tell you about the differences between Japan/Korea - never have I seen such opposite cultures in my life.

    What I'm saying is, getting the culture right is what really adds to the authenticity of the story, though it doesn't have to be quite necessary. I find experiencing to be the only way to truly understand, making it easier to write. But it may just be my preferences shining through.

    My advice: don't take my advice and wait for others to respond :D hehe~

    ETA: I just remembered - throwing in a well-known landmark or street name is a good idea either way (that way, you don't have to make the character say something he/she wouldn't say just to show where they are)
     
  3. Savoto
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    Savoto New Member

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    This works with popular places but what if the story takes place in a small town? Is creating fictional town encouraged or discourage?
     
  4. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    ohhh, well are you from a small town? small towns, USA are easy to make up because they are so similar, so i wouldn't discourage it. no one would get the real small town anyway (differing from the big cities people know). it's all up to you and the story, really.
     
  5. Savoto
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    Savoto New Member

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    I just googled my town's (Milledgeville) population and I get a number barely above 20,000 so I'm guessing that's small. I'm thinking of making a fake town because I want to be accurate in the portrayal of it.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You'll still have regional differences. A small town in Maine is different from a small town in Georgia is different from a small town in Arizona. It's not just climate, either. How close people's relationships with theri neighbors, speech patterns, pace of living, ethnic mix and tolerance, the role of religion - all these things make up tge ambience of a town. It's best to write about places you have at least visited, either by name or as a model for a similar fictional place. Your setting will feel more plausible that way.
     
  7. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can do a lot of research and feel like you've been there yourself, and you won't feel as if you shouldn't change anything and keep the city as it is. I have worked out what entire cities would look like using oral stories and Oblivion's construction set. These cities no longer exist. But as long as you know them well enough without actually going there, you'll portray them accurately without feeling like you have to stick to what you have seen.

    But, people are more important. Local dialects, religion, customs, and attitudes make a place what it is. Without it, it could just be somewhere near you just with different architecture.
     
  8. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Small towns tend to have a personality derived from their particular history pertaining to the developing relationship between the bosses and workers and its affects on future inter-familial ties. Such histories usually determine who lives on which side of the tracks, so to speak.
     
  9. Atarxia
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    Atarxia Member

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    I've never thought about this issue. I just assumed my plot takes the place in some nameless, unknown location. I think it just depends on the genre, and the majority of written works here in this forum seem to appear based on either general fiction or fantasy. Culture doesn't seem to be much of a prominent theme in those kinds of writing.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I usually choose places I have lived before, or make up a city.
     
  11. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to just make up the city or town the story is in. I may heavily draw on real towns/cities for inspiration but I just find it easier, and more freeing, to work with my own settings.
     
  12. zaphod
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    As a reader I always feel satisfied when I read something and the author goes out on a limb and nails the setting of the story perfectly.

    Like for a story set in Washington DC, if character describes as a humorous aside how they nickname the Safeway grocery stores there... the UnSafeway, the Soviet Safeway, the secret Safeway.
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I try to write what I know. Then tends to be my motto, as writing what you know will usually get you somewhere. There are some people who just pick a location out of the clear blue sky, research it a bit, and go from there: I am not one of them.

    My current project isn't set in my current town, but in a town near the coast of CT. The other locations I have chosen are West Lebanon NH in the Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital, and an third location yet to be determined. I've been to all of these places at some point, and know people who live there, so I have a feel for the kind of people around my characters.

    In passing I have mentioned that one of the children lived in Denver, but I won't be visiting that city (as of right now, though I might later in the story) so it gives a feel for other people's lives going on at the same time of my MC.

    I don't think it is a matter of getting every little detail in there, just so long as it is believable to the reader as the setting, that is all that is needed.
     
  14. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You know, I'd never even thought about it till you raised this question. I believe all my stories are "set" in a place that I know. But after 64 years and having lived in probably 20-30 different places, including four years travelling around the country in a motorhome with my family, I guess I "know" quite a few places relatively close-up. Even in places where I've lived, though, I've almost always done some legwork to glean a handful of actual on-the-ground details (in NYC, e.g.), to add a smidgen of authenticity. I usually do some fiddling with even those details and take considerable liberties with my realities. I do like to know how far one landmark is from another, e.g., or how far apart the houses or buildings are, and whether or not folks ride the bus or how far it is from the burbs to downtown, and so forth. I've been known to check out that kind of thing pretty carefully. Even so, I had one setting in Buffalo NY, that I enhanced quite a lot, which a reader from Buffalo told me she recognized immediately (she didn't know I'd actually lived there and that I knew exactly how much I had changed it)-- that was kind of fun.

    I think it's really never occurred to me to write in a setting I truly don't know at all. I might be too imagination-challenged to do that. I have occasionally done a bit of "research" to gather details on other other cities (like Paris, e.g.) where I've never been, which have made an occasional cameo appearance in a story I've written. But I don't recall any stories of mine where an unfamiliar setting was the one I chose to envision as crucial to the MC's story. I worry a lot more about building my characters and planting details (my own, someone else's, or even a distorted version of a detail or two) in the environment that I think helps do that.

    Maybe I'll try it sometime and see what it feels like (but I don't think I'd be very good at that).
     
  15. Rosetta Stoned
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    Rosetta Stoned Member

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    Same here. Or if I know someone who has lived in an interesting place, I'll ask for some photos and insider info.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    photos and second hand info won't give you the nuances of a place that you can pick up by actually going there. For example, speech patterns - not accents, but word choices, local slang, etc.

    Someone else's senses can't pick out what's relevant for YOU, the writer. First hand observation is indispensible.
     
  17. Savoto
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    Savoto New Member

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    Thanks for everyone's replies! I have never really wondered whether a book I read is doing the town its set in any justice. I'm only usually critical if the book is historical fiction or in another country.

    When a book gets really famous the critics and fans point out various foughts and virtues about it. I see the complaint about so-and-so, A-Z being nothing like that and I think about it. Some books I read seem like a giant melting pot of cultures with the character and stories taking first place with the city its set in taking second place or not being mentioned at all.

    First hand observation is indispensable but people can't afford to live every town, province, country of the world. Local slang is good to know but characters using to much of it can really turn a reader off a book. There are some books I don't read due to the way the characters talk in it. I can think of two examples the Redwall series and any one of those books about living on the streets in the ghettoes with only two-hundred plus pages.

    How does one go about learning the speech patterns of an area?
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, some speech patterns are obvious. For example, some US Southerners might say "y'all" instead of "you all", etc. There are other speech patterns which you can't really show in writing. New Yorkers tend to pronounce "cot" and "caught" differently. That's not really something you can show when a character is speaking.
     
  19. Savoto
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    Savoto New Member

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    That feels more like a mixture of word choices and speech patterns to me. Y'all isn't enough to scream this "is in the south" or this "person is a southerner" to me.

    This is where I'm stuck at. The act of spelling words differently to show a person is a New Yorker/Redneck/French. I can take this in small doses when reading but if the whole casts speech is riddled with random apostrophes or words so fragmented its hard to read I give up.
     
  20. Rosetta Stoned
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    Rosetta Stoned Member

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    Well thank god for the internet then, because if I were to pay for plane tickets to every place I wrote about I would be dead broke.
     
  21. Sylvester
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    I use Phoenix, AZ as the town for my script as I live here and am familiar with it. In fact my script opens with people out enjoying the bright Arizona sunshine. I even have a character mention the Arizona Biltmore after she saves a construction worker at a nearby highrise.

    I will even use semi real addresses. Real, Camelback Road runs East and West. I'll us it, but change it to North or South if I use an address in the dialog.

    I think using real cities is better if you can. Characters in real cities can gain a following from residents in that city or town.

    If the city or town is the source of a plague that is going to wipe out 90% of the worlds population... You might want to use a fictional location.

    Actually, if you think about all the television shows with locations in the United States that are actually made in Canada it may not be too bad if you are a little off.
     

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