To me, setting is an additional character in a book. I often talk about emotional geography, which is the physical geography layered over with the history of place layered over with how the characters respond and interact with the setting.
If I read one more book set in Ye Old Fake Scotland by someone who’s never been to Scotland, I will hurl. Or having someone in Harlem walk a block or two and end up in Greenwich Village, without teleportation. Or thinking you can have a one-story garage along Central Park anywhere.
I do something called “stretched geography” where I add fictional places anchored by real locations. For instance, if I need a restaurant on Bleecker Street, I might add a fictional one, and place it on a block where it makes sense. Where such a restaurant might actually work. As writers, yes, we create fiction and expect readers to use imagination. At the same time, if we’re setting something in a real place, we need at least a few realistic anchors. Roots in the believable create a solid foundation for the imagination.
A character is going to interact with New Orleans differently than New York or Edinburgh or Vancouver. Setting and the effect on characters is vital, for me, in creating a believable context for character and plot.
And yes, I need things named. If places, towns, etc. are not named in the work, I suspect the writer is either lazy or is trying to pull off one of those “this could be anywhere.”
Honey, I’m not doing a “Play Your Own Adventure.” You’re asking me to give up MY time to enter YOUR world. Make it worthwhile.
See the paragraph about interacting differently with different locations.
It CAN’T be “anywhere.”
I created the Diamond Line Cruise ships after researching several different lines, and taking what I thought would work best for the series. I wanted it to be logical, and yet not exactly like other lines. I sketched different decks. I did a boatload (pun intended) of research. And then, I basically built my own cruise ship.
This location give something stable in the environment that changes from book-to-book. I get the best of both worlds, because the ship travels, and each book has them on a different route.
The series, and SAVASANA AT SEA, starts in New York City, a city I know well. Sophie and her housemates live in Brooklyn, in a townhouse a friend of mine used to own.
SAVASANA travels to the Bahamas. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to the Bahamas. Years ago, I worked on a Broadway show that had Sunday as its dark day, instead of Monday. At that time, Jet Blue had a $99 roundtrip to the Bahamas, leaving early on Sunday morning, you spent the day on the beach, and flew home that night.
As I said, that happened years before I started working on the book. So I made sure I researched and updated my notes and memories. I also watched a lot of videos people posted of wandering the city, to get the feel of the streets again.
This was all before Hurricane Dorian caused such devastation earlier this year. The book takes place pre-Dorian, although I plan to donate 50% of the royalties from SAVASANA to organizations helping rebuild the Bahamas for at least a year.
Sophie is not a resident of any of these locations. She is a tourist, even though she makes more than one visit (in the series, the ship changes route once a month). That means she experiences these locations for the first time. Every location is a fresh, exciting adventure for her. She’ll learn some of the history and other unusual aspects of the places.
The private island is fictional, inspired by private islands some cruise lines have purchased and turned into resorts. I got to design it the way that worked best for the book, which is always fun!
DAVY JONES DHARMA, the second book in the series, takes place on the route to Bermuda. Bermuda and the Bahamas are both islands in the Atlantic ocean. But the vibe of each are unique. That’s one of the exciting things about all those islands and down into the Caribbean. Each island has a unique personality.
I love sensory details. Smells, textures, sounds, tastes. I think they add a lot to a book. I love food in books. I love how a location shapes interaction. All of these things matter to me as a reader. I love exploring them as a writer.
What are your favorite uses of locations in books? Either real or world-built?