1. Thagryn-Sylrand
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    Thagryn-Sylrand Senior Member

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    Setting a story in a city you don't know

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Thagryn-Sylrand, Sep 25, 2008.

    I usually write fantasy novels but never finish them but now I am getting into writing realistic short stories. This is a whole new world for me (no pun intended) and I am especially having trouble with the setting. Basically the only city I know enough to write about is in Canada but nobody wants to read a story about a secret agent (not that I'd write about that) looking into a multi million dollar underground wmd facility on the east side of Saskatoon. Like how many of you have even heard of Saskatoon. I'm not trying to be lazy here but I want to know, how much research do you have to do about a city before you can (should) write about it? What do you guys do? Just want to hear your ideas before I end up screwing up that the statue of liberty is in houston (I know it's in New York). Thanks!!! :)
     
  2. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    Ever tried Google Earth? They have awesome maps and satellite images that can show you close up views of just about any part of the world you want to know more about. You can type in addresses or just the names of various cities and be taken there. It's a lot of fun (you can even locate your own house and see what vehicles are parked in your driveway), but more than that, its a great way to do research.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Google maps won't help you get the feel of a city, only its look. It will be really obvious to anyone who knows the city that you've never been there.

    If you can't visit the city yourself, try to find someone who at least has been there, and can tell some stories or anecdotes. If they can look over your manuscript and see if you've represented th eplace well, so much the better.
     
  4. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    A bit of research is necessary. Best thing to do is combine using a map with experiences you or friends of yours have had. But it's probably worth trying to get as many different view points as possible. For example, when I went to New York, I was surprised at how open it was, I'd imagined it to be really claustrophobic and dark (what with all those huge buildings) but found it was open and light. Someone else might say they found it dark, dreary and manic. What I'm trying to get at (awkwardly I know) is that because of shifting perception you can write a city to be anyway you imagine, but it's best to have a rough idea of what people think of it.

    Best to research 'districts' as well. Westminster, Kensignton and Hyde Park are lovely areas in London, Covent Garden, Picadilly and Leicester square are dizzy ecclectic places so on and so forth. You may find that you can locate any sort of atmosphere in a city, just find the right area, and get a good look at it geographically.

    Hope that helps, that's what I tend to do when I dabble in the realm of realism. Admittedly tho, I'm not really a realism writer, but I've based fictional cities on my experiences in real ones.

    Like I said, hope that helps :p
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    You can also simply make a city up--give it a reasonable-sounding name and base it off of certain general (not too specific, e. g., the Statue of Liberty) aspects of existing cities, and there you go, you're free to do whatever you want with the rest. Or you might not even mention the city's name at all, just keep it general, for example, just mention it's taking place in Canada or (more specifically) Saskatoon or wherever you want your city to be. You might not even have to go that far; certain passages in the story could make it clear that it's taking place, say, on the East Coast of the US or some such, and readers can fill in the blanks.

    Granted, both of these approaches require a bit more suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but it's been done. Just tossing the idea out there. *shrug*

    a multi million dollar underground wmd facility on the east side of Saskatoon

    In all seriousness, that might actually be more interesting and innovative than a lot of the drek that's currently being published.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!... why write what's been written to death already?... why not be innovative and expose your readers to places they'll never go in the flesh?... and saskatoon is a totally hot name, besides!... plus, the contrast of wilderness-girt, rural backcountry and the hi-tech wmd thing makes for great drama... imo, you'd be crazy not to use your own backyard for this book, no matter what your plot might be!
     
  7. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    Use Google Earth and Google Images for visual reference and then just search for info about the locations of a search engine.
     
  8. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey, I'm much more interested in reading about this facility on the east side of Saskatoon than some well-known place. You know your city, you know all of its oddities and interesting details and such. I want to hear about that!
     
  9. destinationless
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    destinationless Member

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    I feel your pain. I've spent most of my life in a very uniform community in the midwest region of the United States. But I write many pieces and cant have them all taking place here, right? :p

    What I do is I first visit the city Web site. That will give you the current general information. See if on the Web site there are links to one-of-a-kind shops and attractions.
    However, dont totally base your opinion on these sites; we all know that they're geared toward tourists, now dont we? :p
    Find the state or city's newspaper online; that will be a tremendous help as well. If it's a big city or capital, there might even be a forum on the Internet!

    Maybe someone you know has lived there, or at least visited. Ask around!

    Best of luck!

    -D
     
  10. Thagryn-Sylrand
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    Thagryn-Sylrand Senior Member

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    Thanks for the suggestions! It's just that lot's of the stuff I want to write about I want to be set in a more believable place. I would write stuff like murder stories in Saskatoon but stuff that impact's the world in U.S. cities because I think it works better. Hopefully I'll get to share some Canadian stories with you guys soon!
     

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