Thursday, 30 December 2021

Writing Workshop: Location

I just want to have a quick word today about the importance of location when it comes to writing, especially in works of fiction.

It is supremely important when we set our story somewhere that the place where it is set actually feels believable. This can be a real tripping point for books. We may be enjoying the characters, the dialogue and the plot, but there is something that feels somewhat askew, something that we can’t quite put our finger on. More often than not, it is the place where the story is taking place, most likely because it feels vague or unbelievable. It could be that the author has set a story in a city that they have never visited, so it lacks the smell of local cuisine or the sights that one would expect to see from that place’s landmarks. This would be like me setting my stories in New York. Sure, I’ve seen it on the television and in films, but there’s no way that I could do it justice. It would feel like a cardboard cutout of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty which have been smeared in hot dogs and bagels! Or it could be a fantasy land where the writer is basically making it up as they go along, so the reader just does not feel engaged with a wishy washy background to an otherwise decent tale. The reader just sees elves and orcs battling it out on a landscape which is continually changing shape and not adhering to ever-changing arbitrary rules.

So, my suggestion, when you are starting out, is to take a place that is familiar to you and use that. It could be your country, your town or even your house. Explore details of the surroundings and look at what they mean to your characters. Include things about these places that are special to you, and your love (or even, hatred) of those places will shine through in your writing and help the reader to engage with your story.

This is why I set the bulk of my stories in my hometown of Lancaster. It is familiar to me; I know all its little quirks and details. I can then bring these in a neat little package to my readers, the vast majority of whom have never been here, and they can immediately pick up a sense of the city and its surroundings. Plus, they can see how the location affects my characters such as Sam Spallucci, my investigator of the paranormal.

Have a go. See how you can get on. Take somewhere that really means something to you and just play with it.

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